Private Collection

Frances Richards (1903 - 1985)

Hieratic Head, circa 1940

SKU: 9891

Collage and watercolour on fabric ground
10 ¬Ω x 7 in. (27 x 18 cm)

Height – 27cm
Width – 18cm


Collection of Simon Hilton

From a formalist perspective, the facial features are stylised, veering

towards abstraction, linearity. The hair curls, and there are striking

vertical markings on the cheeks that are suggestive of West African ritual

scarification. Eyes – and ears – are open, mouth is closed. This face as

represented is not in the act of speech, but it is attentive. It is a face that

could be female, maybe male, or indifferent and undifferentiated. The

title maintains a gender neutrality, stating only that it is a Hieratic Head’.

Composed on a linen ground, most of the facial details are

embroidered. There are also three dark fabric panels. They are more

coarsely stitched on, in the manner of a quilt, the narrow rectangular

panels evoking in particular Kente strip weaving and its echoes in African-

American quilting traditions.

This Hieratic Head’ makes allusions that seem to be undercut by the

medium: the applied art’ of embroidery. Frances Richards attended the

Royal College of Art, where she received formal training in art and was

especially drawn to learning tempera and fresco painting. What about

embroidery, and quilting – where and when did she learn those craft

techniques? And why, given her training, did she choose to create toiles

brodées that evoke the kind of women’s work that was widely taught to

girls, rather than learnt in college? Perhaps it is not the title but the very

medium of embroidery that makes the strongest, and most poignant,

intellectual claim here, by pointing to our assumptions about the

materials and methods that are usually deemed suitable for artistic and

intellectual expression.

Commentary by Sophie White, Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of Notre Dame. She is the

author of Wild Frenchmen and Frenchified Indians: Material Culture and Race in Colonial Louisiana (2012)

and the forthcoming Intimate Voices of the African Diaspora: Narrating Slavery in French America 2019.

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Frances Richards - Vase of Flowers
1903 - 1985

Frances Richards (nŽ e Clayton) worked as a pottery designer for
Paragon while studying at Burslem School of Art (1919’24),
before winning a scholarship to the Royal College of Art (1924′
27) where she met Ceri Richards (whom she married in 1929).

Greatly influenced by Italian Renaissance painters, she
specialised in tempera and fresco painting in her studies, and
continued to work in tempera after leaving the college. During
the 1930s she produced lithographs, and in 1931 provided twelve
drawings for The Revelation of St. John the Divine.

In 1945, she held her first solo exhibition at the Redfern
Gallery, where she exhibited again in 1949 and 1954. She also
took part in shows at Hannover Gallery (1950), the Leicester
Galleries (1964 and 1969), the Howard Roberts Gallery, and
Holsworthy Gallery (1981).

A respected teacher, Richards held posts at Camberwell School
of Art (1928’39) and later Chelsea School of Art (1947’59).


Frances Richards (1903 - 1985)
Mother and child, sleeping
Frances Richards (1903 - 1985)
Virgil – The Road to Town
Frances Richards (1903 - 1985)
Woman with Flowers
Frances Richards (1903 - 1985)
Penitent Figure, 1984
Frances Richards (1903 - 1985)
Vase of Flowers
Frances Richards (1903 - 1985)
Woman with Flowers
Frances Richards (1903 - 1985)
Mother and Baby
Frances Richards (1903 - 1985)
Girl in a Garden, late 1940’s
Frances Richards (1903 - 1985)
Hieratic Floral Figure, 1974
Frances Richards (1903 - 1985)
Hieratic Head, circa 1940