Stephenson, John Cecil

(1889 – 1965)

The End of a Doodlebug, Hampstead Heath, 1945

SKU: 2609

Signed and dated, Inscribed by the artist on the reverse in pen and ink: ‚Äö√Ñ√≤End of a Doodlebug Hampstead Heath.

Chalk and pastel over pencil and pen and ink

10 x 14 in. (25.5 x 35.5 cm)

Height: 25.5cm
Width: 35.5cm


The Artist’s family

Exhibited: WW2 – War Pictures by British Artists, Morley College London, 28 October -23 November 2016, cat 39.

Literature: Simon Guthrie, John Cecil Stephenson, Cartmel Press Associates, 1997, p. 148. WW2 – War Pictures by British Artists, Edited by Sacha Llewellyn & Paul Liss, July 2016, cat 39, page 77.

Oil of this picture shown at Royal  Academy
1945 & selected by British Council for exhibition in the provinces.’

V-1, developed by the German Luftwaffe during the SecondWorldWar, was
the first guided missile used in war and the forerunner of today’s
cruise missile. Between June 1944 and March 1945, it was fired at
targets in London and Antwerp. The simple pulse-jet engine pulsed fifty
times per second, and the characteristic buzzing sound gave rise to the
colloquial name of doodle-bug (after an Australian insect).

picture depicts the remnants of a doodlebug, which Stephenson (whose
Hampstead studio was damaged during the Blitz in 1940) saw on the Heath
in 1945.The picture was exhibited at the Royal Academy that year (cat.
no. 96)
and subsequently went on tour with the British Council.

Stephenson made his first abstract paintings around 1932. In 1934 he exhibited with the 7 & 5 Society, along with Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Ivon Hitchens, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and John Piper.  Though not today as well known as many of his contemporaries he was one of the key figures in the development of abstract art in Britain.  Indeed Herbert Reed noted that Stephenson ‘was one of the earliest artists in this country to develop a completely abstract style’ and credited him with being  the father figure of the ‘gentle nest of artists’ (Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore) who occupied the Mall Studio’s in Hampstead.  At the beginning of WW2 Calder and Mondrian counted amongst his friends and were frequent visitors to The Mall Studios.

Piet Mondrian photographed in a Hampstead garden by John Cecil Stephenson 1939

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Stephenson, John Cecil

1889 – 1965

Painter, born in Bishop Auckland, Co. Durham. He studied at Darlington Technical College, 1906-08, at the Leeds School of Art, 1908-14, the RCA, 1914-18, and Slade, 1918. Between 1915 and 1918 he did war work, making tools. In 1919 he took on Sickert’s studio, 6 Mall Studios, Hampstead, where he was later joined by Herbert Read, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore. From 1922 until 1955 he was Head of Art Teaching in the Architectural Department, Northern Polytechnic, Holloway Road. In 1932 he began making his first abstract works, exhibiting during the next decade in many abstract and constructive shows in England, France and the USA. In 1934 he exhibited with the 7&5 Society, along with the likes of Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Ivon Hitchens, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and John Piper. During World War II he returned partly to figurative work, making paintings of the Blitz. From the 1950s he returned to large abstract paintings, realising many of the abstract compositions he had sketched out on a small scale in the previous decade, when materials had been in short supply. In 1951 he made a 10 x 30 ft. fluorescent paint mural for the Festival of Britain, and began working with ply glass for murals. In 1958 he suffered three strokes, which left him unable to move or talk. Partly for this reason he is today less well-known than many of his contemporaries, but he was one of the key figures in the development of abstract art in Britain. He is represented in the collection of the Tate and internationally.

Selected Literature

Cecil Stephenson 1889-1965, Fischer Fine Art, London, 1976.

Simon Guthrie, The Life and Art of John Cecil Stephenson: A Victorian Painter’s Journey to Abstract Expressionism, Cartmel Press Associates, 1997.

When in the fifties, I became engaged to Simon (David) Guthrie, he took me to meet his mother, Kathleen Guthrie, and his stepfather, Cecil Stephenson. They lived in a studio; to me, a novel idea. 6, Mall Studios, in Belsize Park, had been Cecil’s habitat for some thirty years. The main studio was a large room with a big north light running from the floor up into the roof. In one corner were Cecil’s easel and paints; in another were his machine tools and lathes and in a third was his piano. The fourth corner contained a sofa and some bookcases, where Kathleen could sit and read, or listen to Cecil playing his favourite Brahms or Chopin. Kathleen was Cecil’s second wife. She was herself a professional artist; a Sladey-lady and like Cecil, a founder member of the Hampstead Artists’ Council. There wasn’t room for her to paint in the studio, so Cecil had built her a painting shed in the garden. The garden also had a small pond with a large population of newts and some very decorative Koi carp, and a monorail for Cecil’s hand-built model steam locomotive. Cecil was a warm-hearted man of many talents, but modest and self-effacing, and meticulous in all his many undertakings. His output of paintings was small, due to the pressures of earning a living by teaching, and his inability to refuse requests for his engineering skills, whether it was to make a new part for a friend’s old Lagonda, dash off a metal staircase or a new set of wrought-iron gates. Perhaps he was overshadowed by his brilliant friend and erstwhile neighbour, Ben Nicholson. Other neighbours included Barbara Hepworth and John Skeaping, the art critic and writer Sir Herbert Read, and later, Henry Moore and Bernard Meadows. When Cecil died, he left quite a body of works which the family have cherished and enjoyed for the last forty years. These include most of the pictures in this exhibition. Simon retired from academic life in 1990 and he devoted himself to trying to promote his stepfather’s reputation. First he wrote a biography, based largely on Cecil’s abbreviated but carefully kept diaries. He then devoted much time and energy to trying to persuade a gallery to mount a proper retrospective of Cecil’s work, particularly the early abstracts. Remembering Cecil’s northern roots, he tried hard to interest various galleries in the north of England in such an exhibition. Sadly his ambition was never achieved. So his family were very willing to co-operate with the suggestion of The Fine Art Society to mount this show, in the hope that many more people could derive pleasure and satisfaction from these fine paintings.

– Marjorie Guthrie


John Cecil Stephenson
Approved Design for Festival of Women’s House
John Cecil Stephenson
Carpriccioso, 1960
John Cecil Stephenson
Life Class, early 1930’s