Sunday, 21 February 2016

Margaret Romanes: art & psychoanalysis

Yes, I know. The Scottish artist, Margaret Romanes, with her bird and flower woodcuts that somehow seem to miss the point, is probably the last person you would associate with the methods of Sigmund Freud. But there it is and, I have to say, Still life with blue jug is worth a second look. For someone who had no training, she had the essential understanding of form necessary to make a print without a keyblock. It all ends up looking like a linocut (and nothing wrong with that) and she clearly felt she had to make the colours bright enough to distinguish between her various shapes. But at least it is wall-to-wall colour unlike so many of her better-known prints. And I am not going to go on about those.

What is interesting is that she could perform in cream and grey just as well. She was encouraged to paint by Stanley Cursitor. He had started out as a young man down from Orkney in the lithographic printing business before going on to train in fine art at Edinburgh College of Art during the fairly short period before the first war when Mabel Royds was teaching at the department. In common with Scottish contemporaries like Anna Findlay and Francis Blair, Romanes also made her way down to St. Ives in Cornwall. I think 'only select' was the watchword she used when she made St. Ives, Cornwall. It owes a good deal to Cursitor's post-war studies in monochrome but she was wise enough to learn from him and, in fact, she describes the huddle of sunlit buildings just as well as the still life objects but uses far fewer colours. The source of light is evident, the shadows intriguing. All of which goes to show that not all depth psychology has to be sinister.

None of these prints are dated so it is hard to make very much sense of her career  but in the late twenties, Dr. Winifred Rushforth arrived back in Edinburgh fresh from the Tavistock Clinic where she had been undergoing psychoanalytic training. I'm not sure what the exact time sequence was but her husband took the job of registrar at the College of Art after his business in India failed. Romanes then began her training under Rushforth and funded the setting up of the Davidson Clinic where Rushforth could work supporting mothers and children as she had done in India. It struck me as extraordinary at first that an artist who had made prints with not the least hint of surrealism or psychological depth would become a psychotherapist. But that was what she did. All of which really should remind us how little we know about these artist and their lives.

Some of the prints are for sale at Sulis Fine Art but, as you can see from the Cornish woodcut, the condition is less than perfect. They turned up in a job lot at auction in Edinburgh so her work is still floating about somewhere.


  1. I am so delighted to read this posting, as I had seen her art but knowing nothing about her, gave me pause. Thank you for your sleuthing on this artist and your thoughtful posting.

  2. As you know the Scottish artists are the hardest ones to research but there is more and more information coming online if you take the Sherlock Holmes approach as you say. Romanes will never light too many candles but it's a start and it was good to get your feedback.

  3. Like Clive, I am also very delighted to read a new posting. At last. And, having found these offered prints also, I'm also very pleased with all these facts that I wasn't able to find. It's also good to see such a (lesser) printmaker as illustre Margaret Romanes sparkled the minds and pen of two alledgedly dead (silent) important and respected (at least I think and do) Printmakers Blog-writers. However: I detect a Malcolm Salaman-like (dis)qualification of these recently appearing, by many of your readers considered (myself included) rather appealing prints. I for a moment considered they were even fine or good prints !). Difficult to understand, I think, but respecting any good and professional commentary I'll do my best. To understand. "Thoughtful" (as used by Clive in his comment) is also very British and diplomatic, I cannot fathom wether he agrees or disagrees with you. Maybe it is because I'm not British, maybe I just need some time. Maybe it is also because there are so many better qualified, educated, artistically more profound artists in the UK and so many better examples of their work with more depth and importance. Maybe she was a better psychotherapist as she was a printmaker.......but who cares ? Had these (series of) prints been by a German noted artist I'm convinced they would be hailed with praise and "Bought Now" instantaneously. At these prices.......... Or shall I wait for another unattainable Boxsius, Cheyne or Kirkpatrick ? You mention "wall-to-wall colour unlike so many of her better-known prints", and "I am not going to go on about those." But I think I speak on behalve of all readers: please do Charles, please go on about those too ! Enlighten and educate me.
    Had I the money to spend (I haven't and I'm not an expert) I would try and scoop these wonderful prints in a "buy-them-all-in-one-buy" deal with the dealer. Small edition fine prints (condition at personal risk) and at bargain price. But who cares ?

  4. Yes, you are quite right, you do detect a hint of the Salamans and I can only refer you to my next post, which I was busily writing while you were writing the above.

    Some these posts are fairly spontaneous, you know, and I'm not sure this one deserves the kind of analysis you have made here. But you have made your point and we can move on. I have thought about the Shinsui post more and realise it will probably cause further controversy but I thought this post was pretty mild stuff.

    No one is more frustrated than me about obtaining the likes of Kirkpatrick or Boxsius but frankly your examples were not that well chosen. Cheyne's work has always been rare because he made such small editions and never really sold that many. Kirkpatrick likewise. Her work is now rare and it is only because people who control her estate keep selling work to the print trade that it ever appears. But they are there if you look and are prepared to pay. You would be better to mention William Giles who is available albeit at a price. 'Twas ever thus.

  5. Weird things is these prints seem to show up in lots that have stayed together over the years with identical edition numbers even.
    I still like them, without analyzing them but just for their aesthetic or decoration value. And the craftsmanship. The Ito posting is way over my head I'm afraid.

  6. People sit on stuff for years, sometimes without knowing what it is. I have seen it with my own eyes, I have heard about it this week, and its our blogs that help to bring these prints to light.

    I know what you mean about the Shinsui. I wasn't even sure what was going off either.

  7. Oh Gerrie, perhaps I am too diplomatic. I have been accused of that before.I don't dislike the Romanes prints, I see them as being of the period. They remind me of works by Janet Fisher, but I wouldn't choose to spend money on them unless they were dramatically cheaper.

  8. Hello Clive. Well you are British and therefor by birth and education thoughtful and diplomatic in your answers and comments. No accusations coming from me !
    The British and the Orientals have much in common. That's quite OK and possibly to prefer to the bold and direct way other nationalities handle (attack ...) issues like taste and preference. Not quality, that's to the true experts to decide.
    We, the others, sometimes are considered too direct or blunt. Which is quite true also. But as long as the result is a civilized debate and exchange (and excepting) of viewpoints and arguments there's no harm. After all we are here to be taught and educated. By the masters.

  9. Oh, God, Gerrie, who is this 'we' you keep referring to? I didn't realise you had been delegated to speak for the downtrodden majority. Honestly, you're beginning to sound like the print blog shop steward.

    Anyway, I remember Clive buying Janet Fisher. That one of all those Breton women coming out of church. Nothing wrong with that. But there were so many people having a go at colour prints in the twenties and a lot of it on both sides of the North Sea was pretty average if not poor. I know; I own quite a few myself and shuffle them into portfolios I'd like to forget. Yes, Gerrie, even the masters make mistakes.

    There is a difference, isn't there, between reviving an artist's reputation as we have all done and bringing an artist out of deserved neglect.