On this day in history….1st November 1887

On this day in history : 1st November 1887 – The birth of English artist L.S. Lowry – famous for his matchstick figures, mill scenes and industrial landscapes….

Millworkers by LS Lowry – Photo by Bruce Lamberton – own work – CC BY-SA 4.0

Laurence Stephen Lowry was born in Barrett Street, Stretford…. His father, Robert, was a clerk for a property company and his mother, Elizabeth, a teacher and talented pianist…. She was to suffer ill-health after the birth and had to give up work and all aspirations of becoming a concert pianist…. This made her resentful and added to the fact that she made it no secret that she had longed for another daughter and not the son she got – Lowry himself admitted that his childhood was not an overly happy one…. His father was introverted and meek, whereas his mother was domineering….

In 1898 the family moved to Victoria Park, a pleasant leafy suburb of South Manchester…. However, in 1909 financial difficulties forced a move to Pendlebury, the industrial area between Manchester and Bolton….

On leaving school Lowry took a couple of jobs working for chartered accountants but after being made redundant for a second time in 1910 he began to work as a rent collector for the Pall Mall Property Company…. He remained working for this firm until his retirement in 1952….

Lowry had always enjoyed drawing as a child and once he had started earning his own money he paid for private art lessons…. Then in 1905 he began evening classes at the Manchester Municipal College of Art, where he studied under French impressionist Pierre Adolfe Valette – a man he greatly admired….

Still Life (1906) – Fair use

To further his art training he joined Salford’s Royal Technical Institute in 1915 and remained studying here until 1925 – by which time he had now developed his own unique style of urban landscapes, matchstick men and deep, brooding portraits….

Self Portrait (1925) – Fair use
Coming Home from the Mill (1928) – Fair use

Lowry’s father died inn 1932, leaving the family in debt and financial difficulty…. Before long his mother had become bedridden and it was Lowry who had to care for her…. The only time he got to himself was late at night – he would often paint into the early hours…. His mother never appreciated his talent; he had his first solo exhibition at the Lefevre Gallery, London, in 1939 – which was hugely successful and many of his paintings sold…. His mother did not live long enough to see his success – she died in October 1939….

View of a Town (1936) – Fair use
An Old Street (1937) – Fair use

During World War 2 Lowry became an official war artist…. By now he was battling with depression; he stopped looking after his home – and in the end the neglect had become so bad that in 1948 he was evicted from the house by the landlord…. Fortunately Lowry was now financially secure and so he bought himself a house, ‘The Elms’, in a more rural area of Cheshire…. Although he claimed he didn’t much like the house or area he set up his studio here and remained until his death….

Going to Work (1943) – Fair use

Lowry liked to holiday each year in the same seaside hotel in Sunderland…. Here he painted beach scenes, the nearby ports and coal mines…. If he saw something that interested his artist’s eye and had no sketch pad to hand he would utilise whatever was available, maybe the back of an envelope or perhaps a napkin…. He would give these sketches away to whoever was present and taking an interest in what he was doing…. These drawings are now highly desirable and fetch a small fortune….

July, the Seaside (1943) – Fair use

Although regarded as a private person and a loner Lowry was a likeable character and made many long lasting friends in his lifetime…. He never married but did have lady friends…. He particularly befriended colleagues in the art world – and would go out of his way to encourage young artists, often by buying their work…. He would frequently act as a mentor…. Lowry was also football fan and a keen Manchester City supporter….

He retired from his job as a rent collector on his 65th birthday…. By now he was beginning to tire of painting industrial scenes and although he didn’t totally abandon his trademark theme he began to paint small groups of figures…. Influenced by his holidays in Sunderland he also started painting more and more empty landscapes….

Seascape (1950) – Fair use

Into his old age Lowry continued to paint and draw – it is perhaps evident he did so purely to please himself – and did not intend it for public display…. His work from this time has an intimate, private, even surreal quality to it…. ‘Mannequin’ drawings….young women in absurdly restrictive clothing; tight bodices they could hardly breathe in – or even dressed in men’s evening attire…. A large quantity of these pictures were found after his death….

Man Lying on a Wall (1957) – Fair use

Lowry was admitted to Woods Hospital, Glossop, following a stroke…. He died of pneumonia on the 23rd of February 1976…. He was buried at Southern Cemetery, Manchester, alongside his parents….

Family Group (1958) – Fair use

A major exhibition of his work was later held at the Royal Academy and attracted a record number of visitors for a British artist…. His works are often now sold for millions….

L S Lowry contemplating Stockport (a scan taken from a photograph by Crispin Eurich in 1962) – Image credit : Smabs Sputzer (1956 – 2017) via Flickr

On this day in history….27th August 1995

On this day in history : 27th August 1995 – The death of cartoonist Giles – famous for his cartoons in British newspaper The Daily Express and for the annuals found in so many of the nation’s Christmas stockings each year….

Fair use

Ronald ‘Carl’ Giles was born in Islington, London on the 29th of September 1916…. His friends thought he looked like the actor Boris Karloff and so this earned him the nickname ‘Karlo’ which later became shortened to ‘Carl’….

Giles was the son of Albert Giles, a tobacconist and his mother was the daughter of a Norfolk farmer – he spent most of his childhood summer holidays on the farm…. After leaving school at 14, with no formal art training, he went on to work as an office boy for Superads – an advertising agency…. He was to progress up the ladder to become a junior animator of cartoons….

From 1935 he was to work for Alexander Korda, who was one of the main animators for the first full length British colour cartoon film with sound – The Fox Hunt…. He then went on to join Roland Davies in Ipswich, who was setting up an animation studio….

After the death of his brother in 1937 Giles returned to London and started working for the left wing weekly publication Reynolds News, where he produced, amongst others, the cartoon strip Young Ernie…. He was to come to the notice of John Gordon, editor of the Sunday Express, who in 1943 offered Giles a job on the Daily Express and Sunday Express…. At a temptingly much higher salary it was an offer Giles could not refuse – and so he left Reynolds News to work for the Express Group – his first publication appearing in the Sunday Express on the 3rd of October 1943…. Giles was later to say that he felt some guilt – as his political allegiances lay more with the views of Reynolds News….he did not like the Express’s politics…. However, the money was better than good….by 1955 he was earning the equivalent of around £200K a year in today’s terms, for producing three cartoons a week….

Giles had been declared unfit for war service as he was deaf in one ear and blind in one eye following a motorcycle accident…. So instead during World War 2 he made animated short films for the Ministry of Information…. He also served for a time as a war correspondent to the Coldstream Guards, who liberated Bergen-Belsen…. He was to interview Josef Kramer, the camp commandant, who turned out to be a fan of Giles’s…. Kramer was later hanged for his war crimes….

Giles sketches whilst leaning on the front of a tank, whilst his comrades work on the vehicles – From the collections of the Imperial War Museums

In 1942 he married his first cousin Sylvia Joan Clarke…. They were to be married for over fifty years but had no children…. They made their home at Witnesham, near to Ipswich, Suffolk – and here they spent the rest of their lives….

Among Giles’s many thousands of fans were members of the royal family; a request often came from the Palace for originals of his work…. In 1959 he was awarded with an OBE….

The characters we usually associate with his work include the matriarch ‘Grandma’ and ‘Chalkie’, the school teacher – who was modelled on one of his own former schoolmasters…. These characters and others of the extended Giles family first appeared as a published cartoon on the 5th of August 1945…. Many of his cartoons made reference to, or even quoted the headlines of the current news stories of the day….

The first Giles Annual appeared in 1946 and the series still runs today…. Giles left the Daily Express in 1989 but continued at the Sunday Express until 1991…. In the last decade of his life he was plagued by ill health…. His sight loss was increasing and he was becoming more and more deaf….In 1990, due to poor circulation, he had both of his legs amputated…. Then on Christmas Day 1994 his wife died…. Giles was never to get over her death – eight months later, on the 27th of August 1995, he passed away in Ipswich Hospital…. He was aged 78….

The Giles Family ‘Powercut’ – published January 15th 1963 – Fair use

On this day in history….5th August 1860

On this day in history : 5th August 1860 – The birth of English artist Louis Wain – who is known to us mainly for his drawings of comical anthropomorphic cats….

Marketing – Image credit : Aussie mobs via Flickr

Wain was born in Clerkenwell, London, to a French mother, Felicia Marie and an English father, William Matthew Wain, a textile merchant…. Wain had a troubled childhood; having been born with a cleft lip on the advice of doctors he did not start school until he was ten years old…. Then, once he had started, he found it hard to settle and would often play truant – and took to wandering around London…. However, despite this he did manage to get into the London School of Art and after finishing his studies stayed on to teach for a while….

When Wain was aged 20 his father died and it fell on his shoulders to support his mother and five sisters…. He became a freelance artist, specialising in the countryside and animals…. He carried out work for ‘The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News’ and then in 1886 began working for ‘The Illustrated London News’….

Early work by Louis Wain – Public domain

At the age of 23 Wain married Emily Richardson, governess to his sisters and ten years older than him…. Shortly after Emily became ill with breast cancer – and it was during this time that Peter came into their lives…. Peter was a tiny black and white scrap of a kitten that they rescued – this was at a time when cats were seldom kept as pets….but the kitten brought so much comfort to Emily…. To amuse her and raise her spirits Wain would draw sketches of Peter….delighted Emily encouraged him to publish them…. Emily died in 1887, so did not live long enough to see him do this…. However, in the Autumn of 1886, Wain had been commissioned to illustrate ‘Madame Tabby’s Establishment’ by Caroline Hughes, under the pen name of Kari…. Emily would have loved seeing Peter depicted in the book….

Louis Wain 1890 – Public domain

Wain’s first anthropomorphised cats picture that was published appeared in a Christmas edition of ‘The Illustrated London News’ and was entitled ‘A Kittens Christmas Party’….

A Kittens Christmas Party from the Illustrated London News

At this stage his cats remained on all fours and had yet to gain the humanisation of his later drawings…. As time progressed his cats began to walk upright and have more human facial expressions – and indulged in human pursuits: playing golf, drinking tea, gong to the opera, smoking…. Humanising animals was a popular trait during Victorian times and continued into the Edwardian era…. For the following 30 years Wain was a prolific artist, producing over 600 illustrations a year…. His work appeared in journals and magazines, he illustrated over 100 children’s books and between 1901-1915 even had an annual of his own….

Despite his success Wain experienced continuous financial difficulties…. He was still supporting his mother and sisters, none of whom had married – and his youngest sister had been declared as mentally insane…. Not being a businessman Wain was easily persuaded to invest into non-starter money making schemes – he was easily taken in…. He would also invariably sell his work without retaining copyright….

Later in his life Wain began to display symptoms of mental illness himself…. His last job was producing a cartoon strip for the ‘New York Journal-American’ between 1907-1910…. By the beginning of WW1 his work had begun to become less popular and by the 1920s he found himself in poverty…. His mental health continued to deteriorate and sometimes his behaviour could be erratic or even violent…. In 1924 he was committed to the pauper ward of London’s Springfield Mental Hospital…. He still continued to draw cats but they became more and more abstract…. Some think this was on account of schizophrenia, or maybe dementia, or even Asperger’s Syndrome…. Little was understood about mental illness back then, the tendency being to commit to an asylum…. Of course, there is also always the possibility that Wain was simply experimenting with a new style of psychedelic work….

Wain spent the last 15 years of his life in institutions…. At first it was not common knowledge what had happened to him and then in 1925 it became widely publicised…. An appeal was launched to raise funds to help him – with personal interventions from Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald and author H.G.Wells…. £2,300 was raised and Wain was moved to Bethlem Royal Hospital, which provided a much better quality of care…. Then in 1930 he was moved again, to Napsbury Hospital, St. Albans, Hertfordshire – which had gardens he could enjoy – and had a large family of cats….

Wain died on the 4th of July 1939 and was buried with his father at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cemetery, Kensall Green, London….

H.G.Wells once said of him…. “He has made the cat his own…. He invented a cat style, a cat society, a whole cat world…. English cats that do not look and live like Louis Wain cats are ashamed of themselves”….

Louis Wain 1903 – Public domain
Public domain
Public domain

On this day in history….11th June 1776

On this day in history : 11th June 1776 – The birth of English landscape artist John Constable – who’s most famous paintings include ‘The Hay Wain’, ‘Wivenhoe Park’ and ‘Dedham Vale’….

John Constable by Daniel Gardner, 1796 – Image credit : Stephencdickson, own work – CC BY-SA 4.0

Constable was born in the village of East Bergholt, on the River Stour in Suffolk…. His father, Golding Constable, was a wealthy corn merchant and mill owner, with a modest-sized ship that he used to transport corn to London…. John Constable was the fourth child and second eldest son – and was expected to take over the family business as his older brother had a learning disability…. After finishing his schooling, firstly at boarding school in Lavenham and then day school in Dedham, Constable joined the business….

From an early age Constable had a gift for sketching and showed a keen interest in nature and the countryside around him…. His natural talent was encouraged under the guidance of local amateur artist John Dunthorne…. He was further inspired when he met another amateur artist, Sir George Beaumont, who was also a collector of paintings by the Old Masters….

Constable persuaded his father to allow him to study at the Royal Academy Schools and he enrolled in 1799…. His work was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1802…. With his career now on a different path it was Constable’s younger brother who was to take over the family business….

In 1816, at the age of 40, Constable married Maria Bicknell…. The marriage was very much against the wishes of her father as Maria was a TB sufferer…. The couple lived in Hampstead as it was thought to be healthier than central London – and they also made frequent trips to Brighton so she could benefit from the sea air…. They were to have seven children….

Maria Bicknell by John Constable, 1816 : Tate Britain – Public domain

When painting Constable was always at his happiest when he was in locations known to him, especially the areas around the villages of Suffolk – East Bergholt, Dedham, Stratford St. Mary and Langham were all favourite haunts…. “I should paint my own places best”…. He also painted in Hampstead, Brighton and Salisbury – where he visited frequently on account of being good friends with the nephew of the Bishop of Salisbury….

Dedham Vale – John Constable : Victoria and Albert Museum – Public domain
Wivenhoe Park – John Constable : National Gallery of Art, Washington – Public domain

Maria died in 1828, after giving birth to their seventh child…. Constable was devastated…. The following year he was finally elected to a full membership of the Royal Academy…. His rival, William Turner, had achieved this honour much earlier in life, whilst in his 20s…. Constable gained little recognition for his work in Britain until after his death – he only sold twenty paintings in his lifetime in his own country…. He fared much better in France where in 1824 ‘The Hay Wain’ won a gold medal at The Salon, Paris…. Constable was to greatly influence the French Romantic artists…. However, he declined to travel to promote his work…. “I would much rather be a poor man in England than a rich man abroad”….

The Hay Wain : National Gallery, London – Public domain

He died on the 31st of March 1837, of what is thought to be heart failure…. He was buried with Maria in Hampstead….

Constable’s tomb – St John-at-Hampstead – Image credit : Stephencdickson CC BY-SA 4.0

On this day in history….25th April 1931

On this day in history : 25th April 1931 – The birth of English artist, author and conservationist David Shepherd – known for his paintings of wildlife, aviation and steam locomotives – and his wildlife foundation….

David Shepherd mid 1990s – Image credit : NotFromUtrecht – own work – CC BY-SA 3.0

David was born in Hendon, London and spent much of his childhood in Totteridge, North London before boarding at the Stowe School in Buckinghamshire…. At the age of eight he won a painting competition in the children’s publication ‘Nursery World’….

He left school in 1949 and travelled to Kenya with hopes of realising a career as a game warden – only to be rejected…. On returning to England he was to face rejection once again – this time when he applied to the Slade School of Fine Art – part of the University College of London – he was told that he had ‘no talent whatsoever’! However, not everybody agreed with this opinion – as David was taken under the wing of and taught by artist Robin Goodwin – a member of the Royal Society of Marine Artists and a lecturer at the Slade School….

David started his art career as an aviation artist – working for the armed services he was given the chance to travel the world…. It was whilst in Kenya in 1960 that he was commissioned by the RAF to produce his first wildlife painting – a rhinoceros on a runway…. It was to prove to be a turning point in his career as an artist….

Whilst in Tanzania and during an excursion into the African bush David came across a harrowing sight – a waterhole that had become poisoned – some 255 zebra lay dead around it…. The experience inspired him to become involved with conservation – and becoming a some what outspoken campaigner…. He always felt it to be his duty to help those animals endangered by human society – elephants, tigers, rhino and so many more – the creatures that gave him so much success as an artist…. He received an Honoury Degree in Fine Arts from the Pratt Institute, New York, in 1971….

David Shepherd, 2014 – Photo credit : Meg Ghyll via Flickr

His first major fund raising success was for Indria Gandhi’s ‘Operation Tiger’ in 1973 – when his painting ‘Tiger Fire’ raised £127K – over £1.4 million in today’s terms…. One of his most famous paintings is ‘Tiger in the Sun’ from 1977…. He is also well-known for his paintings of elephants – especially ‘The Ivory is Theirs’ and ‘Wise Old Elephant’…. Over the years his paintings have raised vast amounts for conservation projects…. In 1979 he was awarded with an OBE….

In 1984 David set up ‘The David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation’…. With his own efforts and those of supporters and artists from all around the world the Foundation has raised and donated in grants well in excess of £10 million to wildlife survival projects in Africa and Asia….

In 2011 he launched the campaign ‘Tiger Time’ – to save tigers in the wild, receiving much celebrity support including from Sir Paul McCartney, Joanna Lumley, Stephen Fry and Ricky Gervais…. In 2012 David was awarded the Conservation Award in the Wetnose Animal Aid Awards and in 2016 he received the Animal Hero Lifetime Achievement Award…. He was a Member of Honour of the WWF….

Aside from his work as a conservationist in wildlife he was also a steam enthusiast and owned a collection of steam locomotives…. He did much in the conservation of our steam heritage and was involved in the founding of the East Somerset Railway – and also served as President of the ‘Railway Ramblers’….

David Shepherd with wife, Avril, 1991 – Image credit : H.G. Graser – own work – CC BY-SA 3.0

David died in hospital on the 19th of September 2017 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease…. He left behind his wife Avril, four daughters, his grand children and great grand children – all of whom share his passion and continue his work….