I spent a lot of time working with Chris Pemberton in the still life and life studio – in fact I first met him when he recruited me as a model just before my first year at Camberwell.
A kind, gentle man with an infinite amount of sensitivity and patience toward subject and students.
He would often sit in my chair and draw the model from my location, his pencil darting about frantically – finally having created a mass of marks rather like the aura of the figure, he began to determine lines and boundaries. Usually at that point he became embarrassed that it had taken quite a while and that he had become absorbed by the process and model.
I loved watching that happen.
”It’s very difficult isn’t it Nick..”
”Yes but that’s the way it should be Chris”
A great artist and tutor.
Christopher Pemberton obituary
Artist, scholar, teacher and translator with a deep affinity for the work of Cézanne
The artist, scholar and teacher Christopher Pemberton, who has died aged 87, brought a penetrating intelligence and humility to his work. At the Camberwell School of Art, south London, he found something of these qualities in his teacher William Coldstream’s practice of measuring with brush held up at arm’s length to find equal and multiple distances across his subject. This provided a sort of ground bass or continuo accompanying the accrual of marks and colours on the canvas. Chris’s eye and hand had no need of this measuring aid, but humility in front of the subject became integral to his approach. He exhibited at the Royal Academy, central London, in the 1950s, and various shows elsewhere included eight one-man presentations, two of them at the Cadogan Contemporary gallery in South Kensington.
Coldstream’s last year at Camberwell (1948-49), before he became professor at the Slade School of Art, University of London, overlapped with Chris’s first as a student. The fine art department at Camberwell was in effect a continuation of the Euston Road school of artists, a group dedicated to working directly from nature and associated with the establishment at 314 Euston Road, in central London (1937-39). Of the Euston Road painters, Claude Rogers had the most natural gift for the act of painting directly from the subject without auxiliary consideration, and came to have more to offer Chris. A Pemberton painting of 1950, of a street scene in Chelsea, displays exacting and convincing appraisal of sizes, distances and tones, a “Euston Road” work certainly.
However, about 10 years later, when Chris was back at Camberwell as a teacher, one of his students, the painter Terry Raybould, was having difficulty in drawing a twist in the body of the model, and sought advice. Later Terry recalled his teacher’s response: “He started a drawing next to mine on the paper. He worked at a steady pace to start with but gradually speeded up, then stopped and took off his jacket, started again building up the drawing in quick spurts – dots and quick lines dashing about, stopped again, took off his sleeveless jumper to reveal braces, loosened his tie and off he went again! Gradually the marks accumulated to make a beautifully sensitive, knotty drawing of the figure. He then breathed an exasperated sigh and said ‘Well, I can’t do it either.'” The episode is recorded in Camberwell School of Arts & Crafts: Its Students and Teachers 1943-1960, by Geoff Hassell.
A landscape drawing done some 20 years later shows that Chris’s vigorous personal appraisal of what is to be seen had matured into an even continuity of search, each quick touch of pencil an inquiry into what – and perhaps who – was in the precise spot to which his gesture was momentarily addressed.
Pemberton’s Orange in a White Bowl (1987)Later, in 1991, his translation into English of Joachim Gasquet’s Cézanne: A Memoir With Conversations was published. His translator’s introduction reveals an astonishing understanding of both writer and subject. While other artists took up particular aspects of Cézanne’s work, Pemberton had a fuller sense of the undivided whole of that master’s reverence for the created world.
Chris was born in London. His father, Richard Pemberton, began his career as a clerk in the House of Lords, and subsequently became inspector of schools in Suffolk. His mother, Daphne, was artistically talented, and drew, painted and modelled in clay. He had a twin, Jeremy, and a younger brother, Roger. As a young boy he showed a gift as a draughtsman and did telling portrait drawings of his family.
At prep school he excelled in Latin and Greek and won a scholarship to Eton, where Wilfrid Blunt – a more genial and outgoing bachelor than his aloof art-historian brother Anthony – was art master. There Chris was much admired for painting a great mural of the meeting of Solomon and Sheba. He became captain of the school, and won a classical scholarship to Christ Church, Oxford.
However, the war intervened, and Chris served in the RNVR, accompanying Atlantic convoys in a corvette, in which he read Voltaire during the long nights. When the war was over, he read modern history at Christ Church, evidently supposing it would enhance his understanding of the times. In this he was disappointed, finding, it seems, that it was composed more of nominated events than the real continuum which is life. Nevertheless, he obtained a degree, and on holiday in Cyprus turned with relief to painting.
After leaving Camberwell, he taught at Bryanston school, Dorset, and subsequently at Shrewsbury school, Shropshire. In 1956 he married Hester Buchanan Riddell, a Russian scholar, and sister-in-law of his friend the historian Richard Ollard. When Chris returned to Camberwell, now as a teacher, they found a house east of Greenwich, where they brought up a family of four sons and a daughter.
In 1960, his brother Roger told him of the attractions of the Cotentin coast of Normandy, and subsequently holidays were spent there. Eventually he and Hester bought an old farmhouse near Fermanville, north-east of Cherbourg, where many friends were invited to visit.
He and Hester moved from London in 1983 to an old farmhouse at Bardwell, near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, and exhibitions in later years included the Chappel Galleries near Colchester, Essex, and the Highgate Gallery, north London.
Hester died in 2001, and Chris is survived by his children.
• Christopher Henry Pemberton, artist, scholar and teacher, born 14 March 1923; died 1 December 2010
The Slade School of Art Part IV – Patrick George Interview
“I try to paint a likeness of what I see … In London I paint pictures of people, of things lying around my room and the view out of the window. In the country I go outside and paint the landscape … The pictures take a long time to paint, sometimes several years.”
As far as big names at the Slade School of Art, Patrick George is one of the most under recognized. His work is sensitive and subtle and was for me the great reward of looking for artists in the UK. The art critic Andrew Lamberth quotes Sarah Kent in his catalog for the show A Critic’s Choice “These are not anxious paintings – the artist does not fiddle or worry at his work. They are relaxed, calm and tender rather than obsessive. “ He is considered by those who know his work to be one of the most important painters in the UK of last 50 years. Despite the fact that he is held in such high regard, it is very difficult to see his work or even to find much information on him. I think that, similar to Uglow, Patrick George sees the work as much more important than the promoting it. To illustrate this point when I requested an interview with him, he replied “I am glad you liked my pictures at Browse & Darby. That really is the point rather than answering questions.”
Patrick George has had a long standing relationship with Browse and Darby and also recently had a show at Cobbold and Judd. He was born on July 23, 1923 in Manchester, England. While a student in prep school, he was taught by Maurice Feild. According to Mr. George, this factored greatly in his artistic development. Feild was closely linked with the Euston School (where William Coldstream taught before teaching at the Slade School of Art) and eventually went on to teach at the Slade as well. After prep school, George went on to study at Edinburgh College of Art (1943-1943). George served during the war and after the war studied under Coldstream at Camberwell School of Art (1946-1949). His teaching started at the Slade School of Art in 1949 and continued for nearly 40 years retiring in 1988 from the position of director. George was a part of creating the Coldstream reports I and II.
IMr. George very graciously agreed to answer a few questions about himself and his work.
Neil Plotkin Can you help us understand your life and career a little and talk about what were the turning points in your career.
I remember the most important one now. At my Prep school, a rather advanced Prep School, we had hobbies days and I joined the painting hobby. Maurice Field was the teacher in charge, he had just left the Slade, this was in the ‘30s. We all painted on cardboard boards with oil paint and used petrol as a medium. I was born in Manchester, an industrial part of England, so I painted the industry; smoking chimneys – light railways – pit head gear and grey cloudy skies. I was not one of the Art set. We were taught English by W.H.Auden and all wrote poetry. In the school Art class we learnt about Le Corbusier, the Impressionists, Cezanne, Van Gogh and Duchamp and I remember a Dada exhibition set up by the boys. I liked the reproductions on the walls but although Cezanne was the fashion, Matisse and Picasso were obviously ‘it’. I liked drawing what I could see but realised that for me Picasso was impossible, in fact I was frightened by Picasso.
A little later, perhaps 1936, William Coldstream was invited to come from London and paint [by] W.H.Auden, whom he knew from London. Now William Coldstream was an artist of repute, an artist who painted portraits and industrial landscapes and St Pancras station and the trains. These were my subjects, likenesses of people and places. At home all Art was judged on whether it was like, or not, Aunts, my sisters, dogs, my parents. So I realised that real Artists could do likenesses and that was it. I could be an Artist after all!
Then came the War and my parents thought I would get over being a painter, but when I survived the War I was not going to listen to any advice so I went to Camberwell, because Coldstream was teaching there.
NP Considering that you studied under one of the great mid 20th century teachers (William Coldstream) and you yourself went on to be extremely influential to several generations of painters, how do you see to the legacy of your teaching and the legacy of your painting? What artists do you feel like carry on the spirit of William Coldstream and the spirit of your work?
PG I have no idea and suspect that no artists are carrying on the legacy of my teaching. The spirit of William Coldstream was one of literalism
NP You and Euan Uglow both studied at the Camberwell School of art with William Coldstream. Initially, it seems that your work was influenced by your mentor but over time both you and Euan Uglow evolved in very different manners. Did you influence each other or consciously work to get away from William Coldstream or did you consciously try to stay true to the teaching of William Coldstream?
PG Uglow and I were no doubt influenced by Coldstream and a great many other artists both living and dead – Uglow by Mantegna and the other Northern Italian artists and myself by Durer and Rubens. It never occurred to us to stay true to the teaching of Coldstream, but because we were friends we obviously influenced each other.
NP As a person who has consistently worked from life over a long period of time, you have seen painting come in and out of favor (and perhaps back in again). how do you see representational painting surviving and remaining vital to the discourse of image making and to the public as a whole? And as an esteemed artist deeply enmeshed in the UK traditions of representational painting, how do you see that tradition evolving?
PG Representational painting in England is not going to stop suddenly now; it changes like clothes change depending on the fashion of the time.
Hickbush the Grove, 20 x 50 inches 1975-1976
NP Based upon the letters about the painting of Hickbush the Grove, I understand that in your earlier paintings, your painting process could go through over 100 sessions in the effort to create one painting. The work that was in your more recent shows gives a sense of a different process – quicker and more open ended. How has your process of painting evolved over time and why?
PG As I view my painting I am amazed how it has stayed so much the same.
NP With your current work, it seems as if you are drawing the paintings in thin washes of color. What role does drawing play in your studio practice? Related to this, these paintings also seem to have qualities of watercolor paintings (in the thin layers of color and the sense that you are drawing in colors). If you find that relevant to your work, could you talk about watercolor painting and its’ relationship to your working process?
PG At the moment the paint, I notice, is a little thicker. Thin paint, paint thinned with turpentine, is easier to change and there is always the belief in the beauty of the white ground.
As with the Euan Uglow article, I want to make it clear that this article is only meant to be my personal interpretations of Patrick George and his work. As stated there is so little information available, and I would love to hear from some of his students or colleagues with any sort of information. If there are any inaccuracies or omissions please contact me directly at Neilplotkin@yahoo.com
Links: There is very little on the web about Mr. George and these are the best I could find. He comes up in the obituaries of many great artists and people in the art world so it seems Mr. George has been very well acquainted with many great artists of the UK.
The best place to see a lot of images (and I would suggest buying catalogs if there are any available) is Browse and Darby’s page on Patrick George
Letters about the painting of Hickbush the Grove.
Paintings in government collections:
This is a really interesting article from the New York Times in 1981 about a show at Yale. It’s a 30 year time capsule about many of the artists in Slade group
- Christopher Pemberton: Artist who found rich inspiration in the landscapes of Suffolk and Normandy (independent.co.uk)
- Christopher Pemberton obituary (guardian.co.uk)