Philanthropist and heir to the Littlewoods fortune who created Comp[ton Verney art gallery
Peter Moores, who has died following a stroke aged 83, was a multi-millionaire philanthropist who made funding the arts a life-time occupation, giving away most of his fortune.
Born in the well-to-do Liverpool suburb of Formby into a business empire created by his father and uncle in the 1920s, and was able to use his inherited fortune to pursue a serious love of opera and fine art. His most public benefaction was his conversion into an art gallery of a derelict 18th century Adam mansion at Compton Verney, Warwickshire, but much of his giving was confidential. “Most people aren’t as nutty as I am,” he once said. “Most people just want to give you the money and go away. I’m not like that”.
The family firm was Littlewoods, the football pools business created by John and Horace Moores in 1924 which expanded into mail order in 1932 and later into the high street in 1938. His father, Sir John Moores, who had himself had an elementary education but was to create the Sir John Moores University out of the old Liverpool Polytechnic just before his own death in 1993, was determined his offspring should reflect the social elevation of the family and sent his only son to Eton.
Peter had fallen in love with opera at an early age. “I don’t think it was the spectacle that drew me to opera, productions then weren’t particularly sophisticated” he said, “but it was the idea of ‘performance’, the singers creating characters and bringing the work to life that really attracted me.
“I grew up with my dad’s cupboard full of operas on 78 rpm recordings, and I had no idea what they were all about. I just started at one end of the cupboard and worked my way to the other; there was Caruso and there was Mary Garden, and there was Faust in Italian… I was fascinated by it, and I got used to opera that way.”
He went to Christ Church, Oxford, to read the operatic languages of Italian and German but left before completing his degree, exasperated with what he considered inadequate teaching (Oxford later awarded him an honorary MA). The impatience in his nature only partly mellowed with age.
Moores didn’t immediately go back to Littlewoods as his father wished but instead got in touch with an Old Etonian friend, George Christie, whose own father happened to own an opera house, Glyndebourne. He went to work there as a lowly transport manager but, observing how tough it was for performers and shyly approaching putative stars such as Joan Sutherland, Colin Davies and Geraint Evans, offered financial help in their struggling years. They remained life-long friends.
His admiration for the Christies and their achievement was great, but when he was approached with the suggestion that he help create an opera house himself at Compton Verney. He saw the proposition there as impracticable, requiring a complete new build with no obvious audience at hand. But he had had a dream of making an art gallery for Middle England, and began converting the old Palladian mansion there, in the Capability Brown modelled countryside.
From Glyndebourne Moores went on to the Vienna Academy of Music, first to make the tea and bring out the singers’ costumes but later becoming an assistant producer with the Staatsoper for three years where he produced the Austrian premiere of Benjamin Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia. He then worked at the San Carlo Opera House, Naples, the Geneva Festival and the Rome Opera before, aged 25, he received the summons from his father to return to Liverpool and the family business. “The Opera in English series (produced by Chandos records from 1995 in association with Moores) is driven, I think, by Peter’s ferocious anti-snobbery on the subject, which many of my generation proudly share,” said the late opera critic at The Times Rodney Milnes. “Yet there’s the carriage trade as well – whoops, I nearly said elitist – 30-plus Opera Rara recordings, some featuring composers half of us have never heard of. Without Peter, there would be no Almeida Opera Festival, we wouldn’t have heard Rossini’s Otello at Covent Garden or Ermione at Glyndebourne”.
Moores became a director of Littlewoods in 1965, vice-chairman in 1976, and took over from his 81-year-old father as chairman of Britain’s largest private company the following year, in the shadow of a global recession. It was not a success, with profits dipping dramatically, and Sir John had to return to the helm. The complex family squabbles over the running of the firm escalated after Sir John’s death with Peter proposing himself for chairman but being blocked by his relatives. He resigned from the board, but a Stock Market flotation at the same time released a new wealth to Moores family members.
When he was 25, shortly after returning to work at Littlewoods, he bought a run-down nine-bedroom Queen Anne house near Wigan, Parbold Hall – “It was quite a mess but a solid, strong mess,” he said, “But I thought I could deal with it”. He did deal with it, restoring it in two years, and lived there for almost 60 years. He brought his Italian bride, Luciana Pinto, whom he had met during his opera-driven travels in Italy (they were later divorced and she died in the early 1990s) , to Parbold and it was where his children were brought up. Parbold was, recalls his friend Helen Anderson, a deep but private love of his. “He was there that he felt himself, restoring not just the house but the countryside around it”. He organised an annual fete for local charities in the gardens he created and extended the estate from 200 acres to 800. Where he would organise shoots that could yield 200 pheasants a day. He was appointed Deputy Lieutenant of Lancashire in 1992
He sold Parbold as he approached his 80th birthday saying it was too large for a single man of his years, and in 2012 moved to a relatively small house in Oxford where he died.
He was a trustee of the Tate Gallery form 1978 to 1985, a governor of the BBC from 1981 to 1983 and a director of Scottish Opera form 1988 to 1993.
By the time he had joined the Littlwoods board he had already created the Peter Moores Foundation “to get things done and open doors for people”, especially in the fields of opera and the visual arts. Although the foundation gave away £231 million in its 50 years, those looking hopefully for grants were firmly informed in writing: “General applications for grants are not encouraged and are unlikely to succeed”. The foundation was not only concerned with art and music but gave grants, in particular, to young people involved in education, health, social and environmental projects.
Moores also devoted much time and money in Barbados, where he had a home, with a scheme to encourage more efficient agriculture in the West Indies and another to encourage young Afro-Caribbeans to stay in education longer.
He effectively started business studies at his old university by endowing a faculty directorship and chair in management studies, which later became the Saïd Business School and which in 2004 launched a Peter Moores Lectureship in Chinese Business Studies, another of his interests. Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum until last December, said: “Everybody knows the operatic Peter Moores but at the British Museum we know the Asian Peter Moores. He has of course developed the spectacular collection of Chinese bronzes at Compton Verney, but he’s also helped the British Museum to add some great Chinese bronzes to its own collection”.
The Peter Moores Foundation continued to widen its interests, funding on one hand a bursary in fine art at the University of Ulster in Belfast and on the other supporting the scheme to build teams of young windsurfers. It helped ChildLine in its campaign to prevent of child abuse, and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Development Trust. Meanwhile, more than 200 singers were helped by the foundation’s scholarships set up in 1971.
He wound the foundation up in 2015 with a Swansong Project to provide funding to the eight UK opera companies the foundation had been associated with over its half century, to allow them to stage work they would otherwise be unable to present. “The foundation has always been a ‘hands on’ charity”, he said in 2013, “initiating ideas, identifying where help could be given and projects advanced, rather than one that waits to ‘rubber-stamp’ (or not) requests for help. I wanted a broad scope for the foundation, to support and initiate projects in education, health, community work and the visual arts as well as in opera”. The late Sir Charles Mackerras, the conductor, was a close friend. “Peter knows about music,” he said. “He can talk as an equal to all these singers and musicians. We feel we’re talking to a colleague”.
With his West Indies connections Moores was also conscious of the role Liverpool had in the slave trade and in its consequences in the Caribbean, so that in 1994 he initiated the permanent Transatlantic Slave Trade Gallery at the Merseyside Maritime Museum. “A lot of people saw it as a hot potato, which of course it is” he said. “I’m not terribly interested in the sociological effects in Britain. I simply wanted to open a book that had been resolutely closed”. It was so successful that it was expanded into the International Slavery Museum, opening in 2007 as part of National Museums Merseyside.
In 1993 the foundation acquired Compton Verney but it took another 11 years to renovate the derelict old house and add a purpose-built art gallery ready for opening by the Prince of Wales. It got an RIBA award. Through the foundation he had been collecting art for years and furnished Compton Verney with Neapolitan art, 1600-1800, late medieval German paintings and sculpture, archaic bronzes and pottery from China, British portraits and furniture from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, and British Folk Art, mostly centred on the Andras Kalman Collection which the foundation bought to prevent it being split up and sold abroad. In all he poured more than £60 million into the project.
He continued to collect for the gallery, each new piece spending a month with him “so I can get to know it” and then being forwarded to Compton Verney. He was often there himself, quizzing visitors on why they had come, what they had enjoyed, and whether they would come again. “That’s my public” he said. “People who feel they don’t know enough to go to conventional museums; people without prior knowledge.”
Awarded a CBE in 1991, he was knighted in 2003. He married Luciana Pinto in 1960 but the marriage was dissolved in 1984. He leaves a son Alexis, a farmer, and a daughter Donatella who works in the charity sector.
Sir Peter Moores, philanthropist, was born April 9, 1932. He died on March 23, 2016, aged 83. §
The Times, 4 March 2016
Marketing director who pioneered ‘blockbuster exhibitions’ with the 1972 Tutankhamun show in London
Philip Taverner, who has died from cancer aged 86, was the young marketing director at Times Newspapers in 1970 when he was summoned to the office of the company’s chairman, Denis Hamilton, to meet the Egyptian ambassador. He was told that The Times and Sunday Times were to sponsor a large exhibition at the British Museum based on the contents of the tomb of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun marking the 50th anniversary of its discovery, and he was to organise it.
A public relations specialist had never been concerned with either history or exhibitions before, and was pitched into the task which was to preoccupy him for the next two years completely unprepared. It changed his life.
Treasures of Tutankhamun, a reconstruction of the tomb with all its funerary details as discovered by Howard Carter in 1922 which had been brought from Cairo in top security by the RAF, was scheduled to run from March to September 1972 but was so popular it had to be extended by three months, opening between 10am and 9pm on six days a week, and half a day on the seventh. It attracted almost 1,700,000 visitors, 7,000 a day and was the first of the blockbuster exhibitions. After London it went on a world tour until 1981.
Still working for The Times, Taverner went on to organise The Genius of China at the Royal Academy in 1973, and then, with a colleague, Peter Saabor, left to set up Carlton Cleeve in a small office near Marble Arch Tube station to organise more blockbusters, including Pompeii AD 79 (RTA, 1976-77), 1776 (National Maritime Museum, 1976), British Genius (Battersea Park, 1977), The Gold of Eldorado (Royal Academy, 1978-9) and The Horses of San Marco (Royal Academy, 1979).
Philip Taverner was born in Chelmsford the son of Wilfred Taverner, a Bank of England executive, and Leila Taverner. His life-long passion was gardening, a seed sown when at the age of seven he took command of his father’s garden. But he also suffered with rheumatic fever as a child, and long lonely hours were relieved by the company of encyclopaedias which prepared him for schooldays at Bryanston. He spent school holidays working as a farm labourer, and for a while his ambition was to be a farmer.
National Service intervened in 1947, after which he studied politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford where he joined the dramatic society. He even toured with Maggie Smith in an Oxford Playhouse production of Twelfth Night, but on graduating he went into industry, pursuing his interest in horticulture by working for Fisons at Felixstowe. He then joined the tyre company Pirelli in London and opened a public relations company for them, distributing the famous Pirelli Calendar, and after a brief period with the Thomson Organisation he moved across Lord Thomson of Fleet’s burgeoning commercial interests to become marketing director at Times Newspapers.
The success of its exhibition business for Carlton Cleeve – the last part of the name was taken from the Somerset village where he then lived –
was also its nemesis because institutions such as the Riyal Academy saw the commercial potential Carlton Cleeve had exploited and the organisation of major shows began to be taken in-house. He closed the company and took the opportunity to, literally, return to his roots by opening a garden centre in an ancient walled garden at Herriard Park in Hampshire.
But his museums reputation followed him and he became a judge for the annual Museum of the Year Award – now the Art Fund Museum of the Year – organised by the charity National Heritage and founded by John Letts, who became a close friend. Letts founded a new museum in Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Temple Meads Station, the Empire and Commonwealth Museum, and he asked Taverner to become its first director. It opened in 2002, but Taverner stood down soon after to become a trustee and, after first being diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2006, severed connections.
He continued as a member for National Heritage’s committee, urging it to continue as a champion for museum goers after relinquishing the Museum of the Year Award in 2003 and then an adviser to the charity’s trustees. The family home for the last 20 years of his life was in Devizes, where he served on the Devizes Museum’s marketing and fundraising committee to the end of his life.
He leaves his wife of more then 50 years, Susannah, known as Zan, and their three sons Rupert, Jonathan and Crispin.
Philip Anthony Taverner, exhibition organiser, was born July 2, 1929, and died on February 6, 20186, aged 86.
The Independent, 19-5-2015
Syrian artist Sara Shamma tells Simon Tait about the fear and fury that shaped her disturbing new work
Hanging in the private office in Damascus of Asma al-Assad, the wife of the president of Syria, is a portrait of her commissioned in 2011 from one of her country’s leading young painters. “I will never paint a picture like that again,” says the artist, Sara Shamma. “That Syria will never exist again, and I am a different painter now”.
Now, Shamma paints the visceral nightmare of the Middle East that she sees spreading across the world: men and women trapped in graves; faces distorted by laddered stockings as a garrotte hovers; a man suspended hand and foot by chains like the butchered bull behind; another trapped and taunted by the kidney that is the subject of an enormous illicit and murderous trade; another eating his own foot.
Her exhibition of 15 new paintings opening at Truman’s Brewery in London on May 11 is called World Civil War Portraits, more a collective portrait of a phenomenon that started for her as a local crisis and has grown to a global catastrophe and a fear that dominates her.
In November 2012 Shamma was in her comfortable suburban home in Damascus with her children, waiting for a car to take her to her studio – a ten minute walk normally but by then a complicated one-and-a-half hour drive. Just as she leaned forward to kiss her two year-old son, Amir, a car bomb exploded outside her door, leaving them unharmed but shattering glass and their Syrian lives for ever. As soon as roads were open, she fled with Amir and the baby Amal to Lebanon. She will never return, though her husband Mounzer Nassa continues to work in Syria organising UN food aid convoys.
“The human spirit has died in Syria, and it is dying elsewhere now,” she says, turning to the most recent shock of the Charlie Hebdo assassinations in January. “Those are French citizens doing this, not Arab insurgents,” she says in her uncertain English. “I feel the fear now wherever I go”.
She calls this art painting from her unconscious. They are not her dreams which are more surreal, she says, yet there is allegory in most of the images, with ghosts and shadows lurking and menacing. She doesn’t know what will happen when she starts to paint.
Shamma, now 40 and the daughter of a civil engineer and a child psychologist, went to art school in Damascus and was part of a nascent but flourishing movement through the 90s and early 2000s, and her reputation was becoming international. In 2004 she was fourth in the BP Portrait Award with a self-portrait made with barely perceptible brushstrokes, more than competent but unremarkable.
But most of the new paintings, all done in the last nine months, are furious, huge sweeping brush strokes carving out the shapes of her fury on large canvases. Eyes are mostly blue because they are more expressive of the fear and anger she feels. The face of the man whose features are smeared inside a tattered stocking, Incognito 1, was done entirely from her imagination as most of them are, and started as an exercise in figurative painting but became a garrotting: except that the hands holding the ligature are both right hands, one a fist gripping the rope, the other gently guiding it with fingertips.
“I like painting to give me very different facts, like the dream,” she says. “I want it to take me to another world, I don’t want the painting to describe something real. Sometimes it takes me to a horrible place, but I don’t feel that when I’m painting”.
She uses photographs and often takes her camera to a local butcher’s shop for images of carcases, skeletons and organs. The viscera symbolises the shameless inhumanity of the war and contrasts it with the normality humans strive to recapture. So in Butcher a huge cow’s liver is seen next to a tall figure, a benign-looking woman. She is actually the butcher (so sensitive to the task of killing the animals in the halal way, Shamma says, she feels physically sick at having to perform the act), but closer to, the flourishing brushstrokes that make her face show the panic, anger and hopelessness that haunts all these faces.
In her self-portrait she caresses a human skull, a grotesque affection for the lost past, but behind her is a set of bones set like a throne, the actual skeleton of a gorilla; intervening is her daughter’s semi-inflated pink balloon, a sharp intimation of life continuing.
Many in the Syrian art diaspora are finding it impossible to paint, unable to assimilate to life in Lebanon, Dubai or wherever they have escaped to. Shamma says they have to forget the old Syria and move on, as she has.
“The whole country now is destroyed, the people are destroyed as well, their mentality is destroyed, I think the culture is destroyed,” she says. But there is hope, even in her own children. A delightful actual portrait is of her son, Child’s drawing: on one half of the face she has got him to make his own drawing of what he was thinking as the portrait was being made, and could hardly be more affectionately intimate.
“Maybe it can be built again, I don’t know,” she says of the Syrian art scene, “but it will have to evolve in another way. The Syria we knew is gone”.
World Civil War Portraits is presented by StolenSpace at
Tie Old Truman Brewery, 91 Brick Lane, London E1 6QL, May 11-May 25
Giacometti: Pure Presence, National Portrait Gallery, London, until 10th January 2016
The London Magazine, December 2015 – January 2016
Giacometti lived a peculiarly double life, despite his lifelong quest for a “real”, as he put it. From the age of 21 he mixed in the dizzying artistic milieu of Montmartre, experimenting and eventually coming to terms with his own perception, pulling his art towards the acetic spindly bronze figures, the Pure Presence of the exhibition’s title, that would bring him acclaim. But for the summer he went home to Switzerland to paint quiet little conventional still lifes and portraits of his family. Which was the real Alberto?
What the curator Paul Moorhouse does with this account is trace Giacometti’s development from the very beginning through his portraits. That way he attempts to grasp the unique reality of perception Giacometti strove after turning away from the straightforward Impressionism he began with.
In Paris Giacometti lived in what became a rather famous squalor, eventually kept in some sort of order after the Second World War by a devoted wife, but he came from a well-to-do middle-class Swiss family.
His father was the successful Post-Impressionist painter Giovanni Giacometti who saw his eldest child’s promise with a pencil very early. At 13 he was given some Plasticene and made a head of his younger brother which pleased Giovanni so much he cast a bronze of it, and at 17 he was sent to art school in Geneva. His father took him to Italy where he discovered Tintoretto and Giotto who opened his eyes to the audacity that was possible in capturing the human form. In 1922 Giovanni decided to send him to Paris and the best artist/teacher there Antoine Bourdelle at the Swiss-founded Académie de la Grande Chaumière, where the stifling academic rules of the Ecole Des Beaux Arts were eschewed and life drawing was the key discipline.
Alberto was 21 and for the next decade or so in Paris he experimented with Abstractism, Primitivism, Cubism, and most intriguingly Surrealism. His friends were André Breton, the leader of the Surrealists, Max Ernst, Salvador Dali and Man Ray, and later Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre. At the opening of his first solo exhibition at the Galérie Pierre Colle in 1932 the first through the door was Picasso.
We see nothing from this Parisian maelstrom of activity when Giacometti was looking for his own reality in the only city in the world where he had every new thought on the matter immediately to hand. Instead we see the other side of his creativity, the gentle portraits of family done during his annual returns to the cosy tranquility of Stampa, the family home village near Switzerland’s Italian border. He was looking for his metier, and in 1921 he made a marble relief portrait of his mother from a chalk drawing by his father of more than a decade before. In Post-Impressionist patchwork oils we have his sister Ottilia, his brother Boris sleeping, his other brother Diego, who was to be Giacometti’s principal model for the rest of his life, standing in the living room, tall, handsome, neatly dressed and aggressive, quickly painted and apparently looking for a fight. But what was Alberto looking for?
We see him grappling with structure in pencil, oil and bronze. In his sculptures from the early 1920s Giacometti is even scribbling on his forms to get his structures, and he struggles particularly with his father’s likeness – he has bronzed a head of Giovanni and scratched on it the facial features that are effectively graffiti. Another head of his father looks naïve, until on closer looking you see the detail he’s worked up, every hair of the salt and pepper beard in place. It’s as if by returning to the domus he goes back to his creative nursery to remind him of the basic tools before he plunges back into the crucible of Paris and the struggle for his real.
But he abandoned many pieces, dissatisfied with his attempts to create a completely accurate head and continually starting again: his hand was not conveying to the clay what was in his mind’s eye – while his painted portraits, and there’s one of himself in the act of painting, are resolutions his father would have approved.
At the Academie, although he had praise of his drawing, he had difficulty with the nude form, finding it impossibly complex. He stuck to heads, going back to Cubist basics to find structure. Then for a while he abandoned working from the life completely as being too distracting from the essence, using only memory to try to capture his wanted image.
Then in 1933 Giovanni died and Giacometti had a complete re-evaluation of his work, almost as if released from the need to conform with the values his father espoused. He broke with the Surrealists and worked with a new independence, renewing his efforts to resolve the problem that each time he looked at his model he saw something different.
He began to model to the size he saw in perspective, rather than actual size, and there is a drawing of his mother Annetta from 1937 in which he has abandoned all signifiers of identity to leave a solitary presence, as Moorhouse describes it, and she was a regular model until her death. From this point his Swiss and Parisian selves seem to be reconciled. A resolution began to form when that year he saw his model Isabel Nicholas at a distance in the Boulevard St-Michael, her features unseeable but her presence unmistakeable, surrounded by and commanding space.
The war was an impasse in Giacometti’s Parisian quest and he went back to Switzerland in 1941 when he met his future wife, Annette, his other main muse from then on. He stayed in Geneva where he made tiny sculptures of anonymous human forms. In 1945 he brought them back to Paris in matchboxes, and they were the start of the tall, thin figures that are the Giacometti the world knows, the Pure Presence.
We don’t think of Giacometti, who died in 1966 aged 64, as a portraitist, but by being in the National Portrait Gallery this exhibition makes clear that, in the simplest terms, that is what he is. But this exhibition sets out to show that to say he is a portraitist is as inadequate as to say he is a sculptor.
Lucky to be an Artist, Unity Spencer, Unicorn Press, 2015
The London Magazine, October-November 2015
The title Unity Spencer has chosen for her autobiography is ironic, although not intentionally. She may have been lucky to be an artist, but she had the supreme misfortune to be the daughter of a great one.
The children of great artists are on a hiding to nothing. They have the creative genes, often, and may be talented, as is Stanley Spencer’s daughter, but are doomed always to be compared, and negatively.
For Unity it was many degrees worse. Born in 1930 she was effectively abandoned by her parents, her mother to mental illness when she was eight, and her father when she was three to the disastrous and short-lived relationship with the artist Patricia Preece. Unity’s life as related in her book has been cursed by self-doubt, depression, frustration, exploitation, misplaced trust and the mental cruelty of people who should have loved her.
Not least damaging was the careless insensitivity of Stanley. As a teenager she was desperate to be part of his lonely artist’s world and when he was painting his complex allegorical piece Christ delivered to the People she offered to help with the boring bits, painting some of the pebbles. “He was very sweet and considered for a moment, and then with a little heave said, ‘I think I’d better do them myself’”. What a devastating dismissal for a vulnerable and lost young woman.
Yet through it all she paints, not with conspicuous market success – she would always be compared to Stanley – but because that is what she does. She is an artist.
This was a valiant project for her to take on, confronting all those demons and making her struggle so public. Both her parents – Stanley (“D”) and Hilda (“M”) – were artists and she adored them unconditionally, but the saddest line in her memoir, almost a throw-away, is that D “loved art more than me”.
Stanley and Hilda both came from families of artists. Hilda was the daughter of George Carline, the British painter and illustrator, and she met Stanley at the Slade (where Mark Gertler, Dora Carrington, Paul Nash and David Bomberg were all fellow students). They were married in 1925 and their first child, Shirin, was born a year later. By the time Hilda arrived in 1930 Spencer was famous – in 1927 his enormous The Resurrection, Cookham was described in The Times as “the most important picture painted by any English artist in the present century”, and he was engaged in his gargantuan opus, Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere, his homage to the First World War dead of which he had first hand knowledge. Unity recalls crawling around at his feet while he was finishing what would be his greatest monument.
But Stanley was in many ways a child, often wise and penetrating but also willful and selfish. Born in the village of Cookham in Berkshire he was miserable whenever he was away from it, though Hilda had no love for the place, and Unity had a love-hate relationship with it for most of her life. He had what ought to have been an idyllic family life, a loving wife, two adorable daughters, a home in his beloved birthplace and a successful career (in 1932 he was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy). Yet he fractured it irreparably by going off with the predatory Preece and marrying her, though she soon returned to her lesbian lover leaving the marriage unconsummated. Yet to Unity, her sister and their mother, “he was pure and true, without an atom of falseness”.
The truth is probably that the Preece affair damaged Cookham for Unity for ever, and what love she had for the village was because that was where Stanley was, even after his death in 1959, and was not grateful when the Cookham house subsequently fell to her. For Stanley he had no sense of responsibility other than to his art, so that his daughters were farmed out to different areas of the extended family, to people that in her chronicle seem to be caricatures of the idiotically straight-laced adults from Richmal Crompton’s William books. When a year or two after Stanley’s death (the poor muddled M had died of cancer in 1950), scared, alone and confused about love and sex, Unity shacked up with a paranoid egomaniac 20 years her senior, Leslie Lambert, and at 31 had a baby, many of those in loco parentis never forgave her.
Through it all she painted. Sometimes it was hard when she found “the business of drawing and painting a distressing experience” and she felt anger which “rose like sap as I thought of the cruel irony that my father… could have contributed to such a loss in me. I knew I had talent, and a gift to be an artist…”.
So she kept drawing, painting, making prints, her son John keeping her feet on the ground. Her pictures are not her father’s meticulous forms, they are more post-impressionistic, more passionate, and her metaphors are of her own troubled mind rather than his religiosity. Her sense of colour is subtle, her forms are sure but fluid, her depth palpable, her composition seductive. A pencil drawing of Stanley, or as he would have called it a “kopf”, done two years before his death is sensitive, accurate but full of concentration and life, while the oil for which this was a sketch is a contemplative and touching account; and 35 years later another drawing of Clapham High Street is a neat and busy streetscape that tells its story simply.
“People say to me, ‘Oh Unity, it must be so relaxing to be an artist’. Absolute rubbish. Art is hard work. I am lucky to be an artist.”
She taught, mostly boys, which she found at times frustrating but at others fulfilling, but now she continues to look, to admire and to experiment with lithography and etching. In 2001, aged 70, she went to a weekend organised by the Landmark Forum, a self-help programme, at which she was encouraged to stand up ands say what she was giving up: “I was giving up being a victim. As I said those words, the depression that dogged me for most of my adult life left me in a flash and I never suffered it again”.