Albert Rutherston

Paddling

1911

Artist
Albert Rutherston 1881–1953
Medium
Tempera on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 2277 x 2013 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1931
Reference
N04569

Not on display

Catalogue entry

Entry

Background

The Fitzroy Street and Camden Town Group painters were not the only artists with whom Albert Rutherston was associated. Through friendships consolidated at the Slade School of Fine Art, the New English Art Club and through his elder brother, William Rothenstein, Rutherston was acquainted with many of the most progressive, talented and exciting artists of the time. Although he avoided becoming too closely affiliated with any one particular movement or circle, his network of connections ensured that he was nevertheless offered opportunities to participate in various group undertakings. One such project was Roger Fry’s scheme of decorative murals for the Borough Polytechnic (now called London South Bank University) in Elephant and Castle, south London. Paddling is one of seven large panels painted by a group of six artists for the students’ dining room in 1911.
The Borough Polytechnic was founded in 1892 as one of a network of institutions established in London at the end of the nineteenth century. Its stated aims were ‘the promotion of the industrial skill, general knowledge, health and well being of young men and women belonging to the poorer classes’.1 The polytechnic specialised in vocational, technical and craft classes such as mechanical engineering, wood-carving, shoe manufacture, laundry, needlework, bakery and hygiene. The main Borough Road building, which still stands today, was originally built in 1817 as the home of the British and Foreign School Society. The original motto of the institution, ‘Do it with thy might’, is still carved in stone over the entrance. During the academic year 1911–12, there were just over five thousand students enrolled.2
The mural commission was the idea of the Chairman of the House Committee, Basil Williams, who wanted to demonstrate that public areas such as refectories and halls could be rendered attractive at a relatively small cost through painted decoration.3 Williams approached his old friend from King’s College, Cambridge, Roger Fry (1866–1934), and asked him to oversee a scheme to decorate the walls, passage way and stairs leading to ‘Room No.9, which was used as a dining room for the Boys’ and Girls’ Schools and in the evening as a Club Meeting room’.4 Fry, who was keen both to promote the integration of modern art in everyday life and to support contemporary artists, organised three young painters, Bernard Adeney (1878–1966), Frederick Etchells (1886–1973) and Duncan Grant (1885–1978), to assist him with the decorations. Work was initiated during the summer vacation on 1 August 1911 and at some point it was decided that extra help was needed to hasten completion of the project and two further artists were drafted in, Macdonald (Max) Gill (1884–1947), brother of the sculptor Eric Gill, and Albert Rutherston. The choice of collaborators seems to have been based on the grounds of friendship and availability rather than any sense of shared artistic sensibilities.

Subject and style

Approach and reception

Nicola Moorby
October 2003

Notes

1
AIM25, South Bank University, http://www.aim25.ac.uk/, accessed October 2003.
2
Information supplied by Dr Rosie Llewellyn-Jones, Archives and Records Officer, London South Bank University, January 2004.
3
Frederick J. Packer, Secretary and Clerk to the Governing Body, Borough Polytechnic, letter to Mary Chamot, 15 January 1954, Tate Catalogue file.
4
Ibid.
5
Frances Spalding, ‘The Borough Polytechnic Decorations 1911’, unpublished manuscript, Tate Archive TGA 7025.
6
Bernard Adeney, letter to Mary Chamot, 31 December 1953, Tate Catalogue file.
7
Spalding, TGA 7025.
8
Adeney 1953, Tate Catalogue file.
9
Ibid.
10
Athenæum, 23 September 1911, p.366.
11
Spalding, TGA 7025.
12
Adeney 1953, Tate Catalogue file.
13
Judith Collins, ‘“The Influence of the Borough Murals on British Artistic Life”: A Special Lecture’, 14 January 1993, Tate Archive TAV 1190A.
14
Max Rutherston, Albert Rutherston, London 1988, p.9.
15
Reproduced in R.M.Y. Gleadowe, Albert Rutherston, London 1925, pl.7.
16
Stanley Casson (ed.), Artists at Work, London 1933, p.94.
17
M. Rutherston 1988, p.7.
18
Gleadowe 1925, p.20.
19
Sotheby’s Olympia, 26 February 2003, lot 73, reproduced.
20
Reproduced in M. Rutherston 1988, pl.6.
21
Forty-Fifth Exhibition of Modern Pictures by the New English Art Club, Galleries of the Royal Society of British Artists, London, May–June 1911 (56).
22
Spalding, TGA 7025.
23
Reproduced in Gwen John and Augustus John, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2004 (79).
24
Adeney 1953, Tate Catalogue file.
25
Quoted in Christopher Green (ed.), Art Made Modern: Roger Fry’s Vision of Art, exhibition catalogue, Courtauld Gallery, London 1999, p.79.
26
Stephen Hackney, Rica Jones, Joyce Townsend (eds.), Paint and Purpose: A Study of Technique in British Art, London 1999, p.113.
27
Quoted in Richard Shone, Bloomsbury Portraits, London 1993, p.64.
28
Gleadowe 1925, p.9.
29
Albert Rutherston, ‘From Orpen and Gore to the Camden Town Group’, Burlington Magazine, vol.83, no.485, August 1943, p.201.
30
Michael Sadler, letter to Alderman Willey, 21 December 1921, Tate Archive TGA 8221/3/2.
31
Quoted in Shone 1993, p.64.
32
Denys Sutton (ed.), Letters of Roger Fry, vol.1, London 1972, p.353.
33
Virginia Woolf, Roger Fry: A Biography, London 1940, p.173.
34
Quoted ibid.
35
Frederick J. Packer, Secretary and Clerk to the Governing Body, Borough Polytechnic, letter to Mary Chamot, 15 January 1954, Tate Catalogue file.
36
Ibid.
37
Information supplied by Dr Rosie Llewellyn-Jones, Archives and Records Officer, London South Bank University, January 2004.
38
Adeney 1953, Tate Catalogue file.
39
Tate Board minutes, 26 January 1931.
40
Richard Cork, Art Beyond the Gallery in Early Twentieth Century England, New Haven and London 1985, p.2.

Read full Catalogue entry

You might like