Lot 8: WILLIAM RATCLIFFE 1870 - 1955
20th Century British Art
October 24, 2005
London, United Kingdom
STILL LIFE BY THE FIRE
51 by 37.5cm., 20 by 14 3/4 in.
signed twice; also signed and inscribed with title on an artist's label attached to the reverse
oil on canvas
Probably acquired directly from the Artist by the previous owner, by whom bequeathed to the present owner
Southampton, Southampton Art Gallery, The Camden Town Group Exhibition, 1951, no.108;
Letchworth Garden City, Letchworth Museum and Art Gallery, Exhibition of Paintings by William Ratcliffe, 1954, no.21;
Letchworth Garden City, Letchworth Museum and Art Gallery, Garden City to Camden Town: The Art of William Ratcliffe, September - October 2003, no.65.
Probably executed circa 1920.
The intimate atmosphere and everyday domestic subject matter of Still life by the fire immediately belies Ratcliffe's involvement with the Camden Town Group of artists. More specifically, the heavily impastoed handling and the interior composition reflects the direct influence of Harold Gilman (1876 - 1919) whom Ratcliffe first met circa 1908 and who crucially encouraged him to abandon his career as a commercial wall-paper designer and, at the age of 38, devote his life to being an artist. The two met when Gilman moved with his wife Grace and two children to Letchworth Garden City where Ratcliffe had been living since 1906. Depite being several years younger, Gilman acted as Ratcliffe's artistic mentor and urged him to attend evening classes at the Slade in London and invited him to the Fitzroy Street Group's Saturday afternoon 'At Homes' to exhibit his works and exchange ideas.
Although the exact location of the present work is unknown, the artist's label on the reverse lists his address at 102 Wilbury Road, next door to Gilman's old house at 100 Wilbury Road and the home of his friends Stanley and Signe Parker. Stanley Parker had studied at the Manchester School of Art where Ratcliffe had also received his formative training under Walter Crane and it is possible that the two became friends in that city. Ratcliffe is recorded to have stayed with the Parkers at 102 Wilbury Road on at least 2 occasions; he appears to have lodged there from 1930 - 32 and again from 1946 - 54.
It is possible that Still Life by the fire depicts a room in their house painted on an earlier stay with them, however, the exact location is difficult to pin down as Ratcliffe was constantly on the move, changing lodgings on an almost yearly basis guided by the generosity of his family and friends. As such, the familiarity and warmth imbued in the present work is a testament to his artistic ability to compose such authentic depictions of intimacy and domesticity despite never having a permanent home of his own. Ratcliffe's friend N.D.Deuchar aptly surmised in the artist's obituary that '...his subjects were quiet and perhaps almost tame, but he had such exactitude and care in handling the shapes of building and apparatus, as well as great skill in laying his colour, that he was marked out as a true artist' (N.D.Deuchar, The Citizen, 21 January 1955).