This probably shows Stephen Bone’s studio at 43 Havestock Hill, to where he moved in 1938.
Bone’s panels were painted in just a few hours of intense concentration and testify to his painterly skill and sure sense of colour. They show his family and friends and also his knowledge and love of landscapes and townscapes in the l930s and 40s so much of which has now changed or disappeared. From Ireland to Sweden and from Scotland to Spain he carried his wooden paintbox fitted out with paints, brushes and a rack of 3 or 4 primed panels. His equipment also included a three legged folding wooden stool with a leather seat, a broad brimmed felt hat and, in winter; fingerless woollen mittens.
In the 20s and 30s his small oil panels were appreciated and, at first, sold well enough to encourage galleries to mount more one man shows. His View of Santiago shown at the Ryman’s Galleries in |1927 reminded the Oxford University reviewer of “an early Corot in the freshness and I delicacy of its treatment”. At the Lefevre Gallery in 1932 the Morning Post critic wrote appreciatively ; of his advances in observation and craftsmanship and of his “developing sense of colour and the minor notes of grey, green and the palest gold”. The Manchester Guardian said that “Mr Bone is a singularly modest artist. On looking at his landscapes one always feels that he experienced some rather rare and delicate emotion which he is offering a little diffidently to the spectator”.
The prices of the smaller pictures were seven guineas in the twenties, rising to fourteen guineas at the end of the thirties and twenty one guineas in his show at the Leicester Galleries at the end of 1946, where Stephen sold 22 panels. Then the market changed, modern art was more widely accepted and cheap colour images became available as colour transparencies. Stephen continued to paint but few of his pictures sold, he had to turn to broadcasting and journalism to earn a living.
Stephen Bone was never part of a movement or school of painting. In his graphic works (bookplates, bookcovers and illustrations,) he was sometimes tempted by the style revolutions of the 1930’s but his paintings were a straightforward realistic view of the world supported by a keen sense of colour, technical skill and a knowledgeable observation of light, clouds, waves, buildings, geology and vegetation. He had a special interest in the weather about which he later wrote about in the Collins Britain in Pictures series. The paintings need to be considered carefully to grasp how much they are of their time.
Bone was a very tall man, in the early days he strode, up to 40 miles a day, to reach his paintable locations or struggled with his kit to reach such viewpoints as the top of Southwark Cathedral’s spiral stair; later he was driven by his energetic and successful wife the mural painter Mary Adshead and during the second world war he learned to ride an enormous Raleigh bicycle. Later still he travelled by rail, sea and air in the congenial company of intelligent and admiring friends who provided an escape from the depressions he suffered as his paintings, in the post war era, increasingly failed to sell.
Panel paintings by Stephen Bone can be seen in Tate, National Portrait Gallery, The Maritime Museum and The Imperial War Museum.
We are grateful to Sylvester Bone for the above catalogue notes