The Studio of Chiswick Artist Bernard Myers – Chiswick Auctions

Chiswick Auctions has a strong history of selling works from Modern British artists based in West London, such as Alan Thornhill, Mary Fedden, Justin Trevelyan and Jeff Hoare, building on the rich history of local artists from the area.

Their Modern & Post-War British Art auction on 30 November 2021 includes a studio sale of the works of Bernard Myers, who lived at St Peter’s Wharf overlooking the Thames. Head of Paintings & Fine Art, Adrian Biddell, discusses his work and what to expect from the sale…

Image above: Barnes Bridge, Bernard Myers

The Studio of Chiswick Artist Bernard Myers

By Adrian Biddell

Bernard Myers lived and worked at 5 Durham Wharf overlooking the Thames, off Chiswick Mall for the last thirty years of his life, painting and sketching daily in his studio at the top of the house. We first began including Bernard’s work in our spring 2018 auction of Modern & Post-War British Art when we sold nine oils and one watercolour for more than £10,000, and have been regularly offering small groups of his work since.

Consigned from the estate of the artist’s late wife Pamela, the upcoming sale of more than 70 lots showcases the artist’s remarkable exploration of different media and painterly techniques, his keen appreciation for light and colour, and his unerring sense of design. As well as paintings and works on paper, the sale features a quantity of Bernard’s sketch books, several lots of books on art and exhibition catalogues from his extensive library, tools and studio props, and several handsome pieces of furniture from the studio, formerly in the possession of the 19th century painter Sir Luke Fildes, Pamela’s grandfather.

Widely known for his painting The Doctor, commissioned in 1890 by Henry Tate and now in Tate Britain, Fildes also painted The Empty Chair published in The Graphic following the death of Charles Dickens, a work that has been credited as being the inspiration for Van Gogh’s painting Gauguin’s Chair.

The oil paintings, and works in pastel, watercolour and pencil in the sale range in date from Bernard’s student days at the Royal College of Art in the 1950s to his final years in Chiswick. The variety of subject matter represented reflects his extensive range of interests, from his life-long interest in steam trains, industrial engineering and design, to his appreciation of nature and fascination with water, which in his latter years focused on the Thames.

Image above: Boats at Hammersmith Pier, Bernard Myers

Early oils in the sale include a vista from his Windsor studio across the town’s rooftops, views of the Thames estuary, and waves breaking on the seashore. An incessant painter and sketcher, his travels north are recorded in a range of landscapes including views of the Paps of Jura, the Forth Bridge and the Tyne; the south is represented by London scenes including bridges over the Thames – Blackfriars and Waterloo as well as Hammersmith and Barnes. Further afield the architecture, canals and scenes of daily life of Venice are a feature of the sale.

A reviewer of the exhibition of Bernard’s Venice pictures at the Neville Gallery, Canterbury in 1995 enthused: ‘Here was a Venice which I recognised – a city of dirt, smells, mist and oily water. It struck me that this was Venice as the Venetians see it. The artist had grasped the key to success with a beauty: shield your eyes from the dazzle and go for the real thing.’ (Laura Gascoigne ‘Venice in Autumn’ in Artists & Illustrators, 1995, p. 10)

Also in the sale are works he produced while travelling through Spain, India and Mauritius. Painted on small-scale artists’ boards in thick pigments lathered on with exquisite technical facility, these evocative scenes evoke the sights, sounds and colour that invigorated him whilst journeying abroad and remain ‘toothpaste-fresh’ to this day.

Similarly compelling, and also typically small in size are his oil studies of the female nude. Again, working at speed in front of the model he used a palette knife as much as a brush to create thick impastos, the sculpted poses of the figures retaining a compelling immediacy. Like so much else in the sale they are a reflection of Bernard’s deft touch, skilful execution, and consummate understanding both of his materials and the subject before him.

Image above: Still Life, Bernard Myers

Equal to Bernard’s manipulation of oil, was his extraordinary use of pastel, in which medium he developed a highly distinctive, saturated and densely worked palette. Among the richly hued pastels are vibrant abstracts inspired in part by his love of outer space, and his excitement at the Apollo moon landings; still-lifes of fruit and flowers, or paint brushes and other accoutrements to be found around his studio.

Bernard admitted that ‘…the way I use pastel goes quite against the grain. My system is smooth and tight and rather laboured, with the pastel carefully and slowly applied in distinct patches and layers.’

But there was a practical reason for his use of pastels: during the day he taught. As the artist explained: ‘I evolved the technique when confronted with the usual artist-teacher’s problems: lack of unbroken periods of time necessary for the start-to-finish development of a picture in one go. I need a medium in which each stage is complete in itself, ready for the next application, without problems with drying, sinking, cracking or running. I found that oil pastels could give a finish close to tempera or encaustic painting, which I exploited to give my works their identity.’ (quoted in ‘Still Life in Pastel’ in The Artist, May 1988, pp. 14-15).

Similarly, it was pragmatism about juggling his teaching with his painting that often dictated his subject matter: the humble still-life. Bernard commented: ‘Still-life is… very convenient to those of us who have to earn our living by means other than painting. Once set up it is there, ready and waiting and easily controlled.’ (The Artist, May 1988, pp. 14).

Image above: Big City, Bernard Myers

Bernard began teaching as soon as he graduated from the RCA: at Camberwell, Hammersmith and Ealing art schools, and became a senior lecturer in drawing at the Architectural Association School. Shortly thereafter he joined the staff at the Royal College of Art, balancing his time there with stints at the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi, and teaching at Brunel University. He remained at the RCA until 1980, when he moved to become chair of Design Education at Brunel University.

Of his teaching, Christopher Frayling recalled: ‘Bernard Myers was a very special teacher in an art-school setting: genial, warm imaginative, down-to-earth, jargon-free, very efficient and always able to infect others with a wide range of his own enthusiasms.’ (Christopher Frayling, The Independent, 16 November 2007, p. 48).

Of his own juggling of his teaching responsibilities with his work Bernard observed: ‘Some artists find that teaching interferes with their work. I find it clarifies my work.’

Adrian Biddell is Head of Paintings & Fine Art at Chiswick Auctions

The Studio of Bernard Myers, Tuesday 30 November, 11am

Modern & Post-War British Art, Tuesday 30 November, 2pm.

For more information on the sale contact Krassi Kuneva – kkuneva@chiswickauctions.co.uk

chiswickauctions.co.uk

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