Your place to explore new perspectives on British art from 1900 to now. Through interviews, films, image galleries and essays, we uncover the creative lives of the people behind the art on our walls.
Getting to know Edward Reginald Frampton
[ Artist in Focus )
We asked Duncan Walker, Curator at the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, Bournemouth, to help us get to know artist Edward Reginald Frampton. His work The South Downs near Eastbourne, East Sussex was on display in our exhibition, Sussex Landscape: Chalk, Wood and Water.
The Russell-Cotes is very happy to be lending once more to Pallant House Gallery for the Sussex Landscape: Chalk, Wood and Water exhibition. Our Founders, Sir Merton and Lady Russell-Cotes, believed in sharing their collections for the benefit of all and it is a philosophy we are more than happy to share.
While the Russell-Cotes is rightly world renowned for its amazing collection of 19th century art, we are also the proud custodians of an interesting early to mid-20th century collection. The South Downs near Eastbourne, East Sussex forms a key part. Not only is it a visually vibrant styled work but a painting which has had something of an adventurous past – museologically speaking.
Frampton is counted amongst the later wave of Pre-Raphaelite artists who came onto the art scene long after the original Brotherhood had disbanded but were inspired by their work and principles. The son of a stained-glass artist, he attended Brighton Grammar School (which is the link to Sussex) and then the Westminster School of Art, apparently at the same time as Aubrey Beardsley. Initially, he followed in his father’s footsteps, working on stained-glass designs as well as murals and sculpture. He was also commissioned to produce memorials for several churches and portraits for private individuals.
After an initial focus on landscape, he was inspired by an exhibition of Edward Burne-Jones’ work and looked to Pre-Raphaelitism and the Italian works on which it drew. Although paintings of figures in that style dominated in his mature work, a landscape element, real or imagined, still formed a distinct part of their composition. Mural painter Pierre Puvis de Chavannes also had a distinct impact on Frampton. An article in The International Studio in 1919 acknowledged the link but was happy to relate that Frampton had managed to steer a course between the ‘sexless wraiths’ of Burne-Jones and ‘the coarse physical type with its this wrists and ankles, ponderous feet and hands’ of de Chavannes.
A key feature of Frampton’s work, which can be readily seen in The South Downs near Eastbourne, East Sussex, is its flat shadowless nature which owes a lot to the influence of de Chavannes in my opinion. Although we know this work as a tempera painting, it seems that Frampton was also in the habit of mixing powder colours with beeswax and a solvent, rather than egg to achieve the flat solid blocks of colour he wanted over a tempera background.
Sadly, not much of his work is in public collections, however we at the Russell-Cotes were very lucky in being able to borrow Echo, considered his finest work, from the Maas Gallery for our 2019 Pre-Raphaelite exhibition Beyond the Brotherhood. That we have this work and another one, Mount Caburn from Itford Hill, in our collections is the work of our second Curator, Norman Silvester (1894-1969), who ran the Russell-Cotes from 1932 until 1958. Something of a ‘Renaissance Man’ his interests ran from archaeology and art to meteorology, geology and natural history. A keen ice skater (one his daughters became a successful international competitor) he had been a motorcycle dispatch rider during the First World War and came to the Russell-Cotes from Doncaster Museum with a definitive vision.
The South Downs near Eastbourne, East Sussex on display at Russell-Cotes 2016 exhibition Meeting Modernism.
At that point the Russell-Cotes was still very much as the Founders had left it, with a strong focus on their collection of art and artefacts from around the world juxtaposed with the high Victorian art they possessed. Norman took the museum in a very much more of a modern ‘municipal gallery’ direction. He built a strong exhibition programme featuring contemporary artists but remaining within the figurative agenda set by Sir Merton – noted for the absolute loathing he had for French Impressionism and anything like it. Norman built strong relationships with artists and made some inspired collecting choices. He was also a big believer in museums as centres of personal learning, education and engagement as well as the development of them across the land.
In the 1930s, Norman became interested in tempera painting, which thanks to the work of the likes of Maxwell Armfield and Joseph Southall, was undergoing something of a revival. Norman put on three full gallery exhibitions of purely tempera work during his time at the Russell-Cotes while also readily accepting it his other contemporary art shows.
In September 1950 the Russell-Cotes was contacted by Frampton’s widow, then living in Wimborne, Dorset. She was looking to ‘downsize’ and offered Norman three works two of which, The South Downs near Eastbourne, East Sussex and Mount Caburn from Itford Hill, he generously offered to Brighton Art Gallery on the basis of their being more relevant to their collections. Norman wrote a short article on Frampton in 1954 and it seems that he had spoken to the widow or otherwise knew something of his career although I have yet to find out if this artist’s work was ever hung in the Russell-Cotes previously. From the file correspondence I have seen Norman was under the impression that the passing of the two works to Brighton was a permanent arrangement. However, in 1975 they were found in Brighton’s picture store somewhat unloved and unwanted and believed to be held on loan. They were offered back to the Russell-Cotes and, I am very happy to say, gratefully received.
The South Downs near Eastbourne, East Sussex has been shown a number of times at the Russell-Cotes in recent years and has proven popular with our visitors. Personally, I find the flat sun-drenched scene evocative of high summer in Sussex like Leslie Moffat Ward’s etchings transport you Dorset. One can almost hear the chirping of crickets, the birdcalls and even feel the summer’s heat. Coupled with the lovely, original, period frame it is a window into an almost mythical place, and I hope you all enjoy looking at it as much as I do.
Duncan Walker MA, AMA, is the Curator at Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, Bournemouth.
Frampton’s The South Downs near Eastbourne, East Sussex was included in our temporary exhibition Sussex Landscape: Chalk, Wood and Water.