‘Drawings’ is a collaborative venture combining two exhibitions that have been timed to coincide: British Drawings: 1890-1990 at Sotheran’s, and Drawings 1990-2022 at Purdy Hicks Gallery. Both shows emphasise the importance of drawing to artists of the last 120 years: though many of the artists have used myriad other art forms, they have invariably returned to the honesty of drawing, time and time again.
The artists reflect their times. The artists from 1890-1980 are very much associated with strong schools of thought. One school in particular, the Slade School of Fine Art, dominates. Its rigorous process of drawing underpins much that we see, but is of course interpreted differently artist by artist. There was most definitely a British School, and in terms of drawing its greatest, though largely unacknowledged, triumph can be found in the remarkable works produced by the artists of the British School at Rome with their use of drawing techniques dating back to the Renaissance.This catalogue contains outstanding examples by Winifred Knights, Evelyn Gibbs, Anne Newland, Thomas Monnington, Robert Austin, Alan Sorrell and Reginald Brill. Slade student Winifred Knights exemplified the teachings of Henry Tonks, (Professor of Fine Art at the Slade from 1918 to 1930), with her observation of nature and meticulous methodology, working through endless studies, which were in turn painstakingly transferred to create finished works. Gilbert Spencer, another of the Professor’s students, recalled how Tonks talked of dedication, the privilege of being an artist, that to do a bad drawing was like living with a lie, and he proceeded to implant these ideals by ruthless and withering criticism. I remember once coming home and feeling like flinging myself under a train, and Stan telling me not to mind as he did it to everyone.
Methodology aside, many of the artists in this catalogue share common traits – an obsession with the minutiae of nature, an unbreakable attachment to landscape, an immersion in the narrative tradition, and an inability to resist humour and affection for the quirky and mundane.