Sunday, 23 December 2012

Leonard Beaumont: road to the glacier

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.

Perhaps he merely mimicked the style. Mimickry was certainly a theme for me in both rooms. In his final linocut, the cheeky Nymphs, errant from 1934, he even mimics the stipple effect of lithography and I went round playing the double game of spot the catalogue mistake and spot the influence. From Stanley Anderson to Claude Flight, they are all there. In itself, that is quite some range, and I do think this is where Beaumont falls down. He was never a professional artist so much as a professional designer, and I wonder to what extent he approached his printed work in the way a designer approaches his work, not so much with a consistent style as with a need to communicate. This he certainly did do, albeit in his dry and exact way (see above).


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.



  1. Oh Charles, your pre-Christmas criticisms are both accurate and amusing. You are spot on with Beaumont. He was always a lesser "artist" and it has always been a few people who have some of his prints who have slogged away at raising Beaumont's name and recognition it order to flog off his art.

    Ten years ago, when his prints were entered into auction they were usually described in the usual rubbishy "Grosvenor School" blather. When they were entered into auction, more often than not, they didn't sell. This was the case up until a few years ago, when upon realizing the market for prints by actual Grosvenor School artists had dried up, they, the dealers, took to Beaumont.

    I think you are also spot on that he was a designer rather than an artist. Whenever I see Beaumont's work, I am reminded of a Biba cookie tin or a Biba deck of cards, rather than any actual art. His works are clearly designed to be decorative rather than to be on a deadline as you might suggest. I had taken an interest in Beaumont's work when I used to look at print auction catalogues and his name started to appear, I was bemused. My initial impression hasn't changed. I still firmly believe a few dealers have his prints and are desperate to get some financial reward from them, thus the "rare and little know Grosvenor School" student come-on.

    His etchings are entirely new to me, and they are strong but nothing dazzling. Anyway, a wonderful and entertaining appraisal.

    Merry Christmas Charles

  2. I try to imagine what the reaction would be if a public gallery in Dundee or Camden organised an exhibition called 'Ian Cheyne rediscovered' or 'Sylvan Boxsius, unknown artist'. I know from what my readers say how the public would react. But the fact is curators don't know the modern print field, they only know what they have in their collections. It's just chance that Sheffield have all this stuff in one place and they can put an exhibition up he barely deserves. You know they know what he fetches on Bond St but can't say.

    This is not my last say prior to the holiday. I have promised David a Kenneth Broad Christmas Issue.