I know it's not as easy for most readers to get up to Sheffield as it is for me, but I wanted to remind anyone who can get there, that the Beaumont exhibition that opened at the Graves Gallery yesterday is worth the trip if it isn't too far. And if that sounds like a qualified judgement, it is. It runs untill next September, so you have plenty of time. Independant they are in Sheffield, but also mean. There is no catalogue and not even a list of prints. (I had to make my own). But back to my doubts.
There is something unconvincing about his work. At the same time he was making etched capriccios of Alpine subjects like Road to the glacier here, he was also starting out on a quite different road to a modernist Shangri La with linocuts like Mountain Stream. I like them both but I particularly liked the etchings of Switzerland. He denied any attempt to be factual ('I worked mostly from the imagination. I never took photographs or made rough sketches') and this tends to give that side of his work a painstaking, naive quality. It's a kind of higher form of doodle. I don't want to sound snooty when I talk about his lack of training, but I think it shows. Frank Brangwyn, who had even less of an art education than Beaumont, who attended eveniong classes at the School of Art, said that all art schools produced were 'clever imitators'. Ironically, imitation was the name of the game with Beaumont, to some extent. Even so, he was an eloquent and meticulous printmaker and the etchings are so fine, I am far from convinced they are not in fact engravings.
I thought giving one room over to colour and the other to black-and-white was a mistake. A chronological approach would have provided visitors with the striking differences between his etching and linocuts between about 1929 and 1932. The change-over was pretty remarkable, but because some of the dates given at Sheffield are wrong, the view of his progression is muzzy, anyway. But, as I said, he didn't let the factual get in the way too much. Like John Hall Thorpe before him, he was trained essentially to meet a deadline. This probably made him a very reliable freelance in the end. No doubt, when he went on his trips to Switzerland and Madeira, he just wanted to let his imagination go its course for a change and if he appears to be as errant as his nymphs, it perhaps also shows a diverse and fertile Yorkshire mind at work. That it is different in Yorkshire, there is no doubt.
And when he said later in life that no one made any money out of etchings and linocuts in the twenties and thirties, he was strangely at variance with the facts. Untill the Depression set in, some etchers made a good deal, and at two or three guineas linocuts were by no means cheap. It strikes me as unusal that he had a father in a managerial position but went straight to work for the Sheffield Morning Telegraph at sixteen as 'general factotum' before progressing to the art department. He made imagination sound like something you did on holiday.