The Cecil French Bequest: Friends & Contemporaries

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Posted 29th May 2018

The Cecil French Bequest
Friends and Contemporaries

The Cecil French Bequest includes artists known to French himself and who inspired his career – or rather his passions – as artist, critic and collector.

Frederick Cayley Robinson (1862-1927)
Robinson was a French-trained painter whose early work of the 1890s had inspired French when he saw it exhibited in London in the 1890s. In an article French wrote on the artist, he recalled the powerful impact made on him by the mystery and “the almost desperate sincerity" of Robinson's work, which he felt strongly resembled the earliest productions of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Mother and Child: The Threads of Life (1894) is a good example of exactly this tone.

Charles Haslewood Shannon (1863-1937)
Along with his lifelong companion Charles Ricketts, Shannon personified the persistence of the romantic figurative tradition in British art well into the age of Modernism. Another of the figures to inspire French as a young man, Shannon created a famous sequence of paintings in the shape of fans, a tribute to one aspect of Japanese art.

William Shackleton (1872-1933)
Like French himself, Shackleton can only be described as a self-made man in terms of his artistic tastes. His style is one entirely invented by himself, under the influence perhaps of Watts whom Shackleton greatly admired. The Golden Hour is an early example of his style, but still immediately recognisable as his alone, with its pink-yellow tonality and strangely sandy texture. The affinity between Shackleton and French is shown by the artist's 1923 portrait of the collector (pictured above).

G F Watts (1817-1904)
Watts himself appeared in the French collection in the form of both paintings and drawings. The example included in our exhibition dates from 1890 and is a red chalk version of the master's famous composition The All-Pervading, although now The Recording Angel. The original design – known primarily through versions in the Tate collection (on loan to Watts Gallery) and in the Watts Chapel – showed a benevolent figure cradling a celestial globe in their lap, across which also falls a scroll. In this version, the figure writes upon the scroll, reassuring us that all that happens is recognised somewhere. The drawing was one of a series made by Watts after his most important paintings in order to raise money to build Limnerslease, his house at Compton in the Surrey hills (now open to the public). The series was sold through the dealer William Agnew who generously declined to take a commission on the sale in order to help an old friend. A marble bust of Agnew, created by the leading sculptor Onslow Ford in 1899, is presently on loan to Watts Gallery and is on show at Limnerslease.

Dr Nicholas Tromans
Former Brice Curator