County on canvas

The Lifeboat Cafe (screenprint, 17 x 20 inches) © Alfred Cohen, 1995. Cohen’s works are on view at The School House Gallery, Wighton, Norfolk NR23 1ALThe Lifeboat Cafe (screenprint, 17 x 20 inches) © Alfred Cohen, 1995. Cohen’s works are on view at The School House Gallery, Wighton, Norfolk NR23 1AL

At this month's Wanstead Historical Society meeting, Jef Page will be discussing the artists of East Anglia – those who lived there and those who travelled to capture the beauty of its counties.

When I first decided to offer this topic for talks I struggled to think of any artists, but once you put your mind to it, they pour out, led by Constable and Gainsborough. The problem then becomes who to leave out.

John Constable (1776–1837) was born in East Bergholt and went to school in Dedham. His father owned the mill at Flatford and he is our most famous and local star artist. He was inspired by Thomas Gainsborough (1727–88), who although made his career painting portraits, was inspired by the Suffolk landscape (like Constable) painting 'landskips'. I will show some of Constable's most famous pictures, such as The Haywain (1821). Another from the National Gallery's wonderful collection is Gainsborough's double portrait Mr and Mrs Andrews (1748) in which sour-looking newly-weds Frances and Robert display their recently harvested estate.

An artist who clearly liked coming to Essex was Charles Leslie, now best known for being a friend of Constable's and his first biographer. In 1821 he painted a family Picnicking in Epping Forest, a new experience at the time called 'gypsying'. An Epping resident was Lucien Pissarro, little-known son of French Impressionist Camille. Lucien's painting of The Yellow Tree on the Road to Epping (1893) is a delight to the eye: its golden leaves of summer turn to autumn.

Mark Fisher was a terrific artist in Monet's style and his picture of a line of tall poplar trees alongside the road to Newport (1894) shows a labourer on a horse: hot summer days at their best. But not so popular, when he rubbished Picasso's modern art, was Sir Alfred Munnings (1878–1959), who despite having lost an eye as a child, rose to become president of the Royal Academy. His gallery is at Dedham and I will show The Horse Fair and A Gala Day from the Edwardian period. He loved painting the bustle of Norfolk country fairs.

Completely different in style is Country Interior (Humble Life) (1908), painted by the only female artist I will show: Rose Mead. Her picture is in Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich, a superb gallery that even has two Constable paintings. Mead's small picture shows a poor family eating breakfast (porridge?) with a large bowl of fruit on the table – straight out of Gustave Courbet's National Gallery still life picture. A completely different modernist style was shown by Louis Prince who painted two sketches of the Woodford Avenue being built (circa 1922). My final choice of pictures will be Alfred Cohen's riot of eye-catching colour The Lifeboat Cafe, Cromer (1968): the cafe is still on Cromer beach near the pier.

Jef's talk for the Wanstead Historical Society will take place at Wanstead Library on 15 February from 8pm (visitors: £3). For more information, call 07949 026 212


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