Artist biography

English painter and gallery director. She studied at the Slade School of Fine Art, London (1924–8). In 1931 she started working for the art dealer Frederick Lessore, who later became her husband. Financial and family responsibilities after his death in 1951 forced her to take over his West End gallery, the Beaux Arts Gallery in Bruton Place, London, whose director she remained until its closure in 1965. Nearly all the artists she promoted were graduates either of the Royal College of Art or of the Slade and were unknown at the time. Most – notably Craigie Aitchison (b 1926), Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Leon Kossoff, Raymond Mason, Euan Uglow and the painters of the Kitchen Sink school – later gained considerable reputations, thus indicating in retrospect her determination to stand outside fashionable taste. All were unashamedly humanist in their approach, belonging to what Lessore has called the ‘Great Tradition', in a period that saw the tail-end of Neo-Romanticism, the dominance of abstraction, the emergence of Pop art and the increasing commercialism of the art world. In 1958 she was made an OBE for her services to the fine arts.

Lessore's own work shared many of the qualities she looked for in her artists. She resumed painting in the early 1960s, using her family, friends and artists as her subject-matter.Her gauge of quality was always the figurative and technical example of Walter Sickert. Her son, John Lessore (b 1939), is also a highly regarded painter working in the same tradition.

Bibliography
Helen Lessore and the Beaux Arts Gallery (exh. cat. by A. Forge, London, Marlborough F.A., 1968)
Paintings by Helen Lessore (exh. cat. by M. Peppiatt, London, 12 Duke Street Gal., 1981)
The Hard-won Image: Traditional Method and Subject in Recent British Art (exh. cat. by R. Morphet, London, Tate, 1984)
Helen Lessore (exh. cat. by R. Morphet, London, F.A. Soc., 1987)

MONICA BOHM-DUCHEN

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