William Ratcliffe

Attic Room

1918

Artist
William Ratcliffe 1870–1955
Medium
Oil paint on plywood
Dimensions
Support: 510 x 508 mm
frame: 624 x 625 x 95 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Bequeathed by Miss Eveline Annie Dear 1980
Reference
T03167

Not on display

Display caption

Ratcliffe shows the room he slept in while he stayed at his brother’s house. The prominence of his boots, and the chair, suggest he had in mind Van Gogh’s pictures of such things, particularly the interior of his own bedroom in Arles.

Following his teacher, Harold Gilman, Ratcliffe often painted the interiors of his own and his family’s houses. His first job had been as a pattern designer in London for the Wallpaper Combine and this is perhaps reflected in the insistent painting of the wallpaper here.

Gallery label, September 2004

Catalogue entry

Entry

William Ratcliffe depicts his niece Margaret’s bedroom at 4 Torrington Road, Berkhampstead, the address of his brother S.K. Ratcliffe and his family from 1916 to 1925.1 However, the large pair of boots at the centre of the picture indicates that Ratcliffe was himself the occupant of this room at the time it was painted. The simple chair and bed also suggest he may have had in mind Vincent van Gogh’s famous painting of his bedroom at Arles from 1888 (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam).2 The Dutch artist had been an especially significant influence on Ratcliffe’s teacher Harold Gilman, who died the year Ratcliffe’s painting was first shown.
Following Gilman, Ratcliffe often painted the interiors of the houses in which he stayed. One of his first jobs had been as a pattern designer in London for the Wallpaper Manufacturers’ Combine, and this is perhaps reflected in the precise painting of the wallpaper in this work, even more apparent in the drawing (fig.1), which is exactly the same in outline and was presumably executed as a study for the oil painting, although it is not squared up. The same interest in the decorative possibilities of wallpaper also feature in Gilman’s Interior c.1914–15 (private collection),3 painted in his studio at 47 Maple Street, off Tottenham Court Road. As the art historian Wendy Baron notes, the empty chair with rush seat in Gilman’s picture might also be an homage to van Gogh.4
It seems likely that Eveline Dear (1889–1980), the only recorded owner of this work, acquired it directly from the artist. Dear lived in Letchworth Garden City from at least the 1920s, and had kept a gift shop in the town’s Eastcheap. She also ‘used to paint and for many years worked in a drawing office’.5 After time away in London and elsewhere, Ratcliffe returned to Letchworth to live with his friends Stanley and Signe Parker from 1930 until 1932, and then lodged at Lower Wilbury Farm until 1937.6

Robert Upstone and Ysanne Holt
January 2011

Notes

1
Margaret Ratcliffe, letter to Tate Gallery, 27 February 1983, Tate Catalogue file.
2
Reproduced at Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, http://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/vgm/index.jsp?page=2796&collection=451&lang=en, accessed 10 February 2011.
3
Reproduced in Wendy Baron, Perfect Moderns: A History of the Camden Town Group, Aldershot and Vermont 2000, no.61.
4
Ibid., p.154.
5
‘Surprise Bequest in a Spinster’s Will’, newspaper cutting in Ratcliffe file, Letchworth Museum and Art Gallery.
6
William Ratcliffe, exhibition catalogue, Letchworth Museum and Art Gallery 1982, p.8.

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