Zawn: Walking West Penwith/Cliff-edge painting by Paul Lewin || Paul Gough

Helpfully, the back cover blurb provides an explanation of the enigmatic title. “Zawn: a coastal inlet in a cliff face, with steep or rocky sides. Often the result of a roof-collapse in a littoral cave.”

This is useful to know, as it defines the content of this beautifully illustrated book, which exudes a sumptuous feel in spite of its relative slimness and soft cover.

The paintings themselves, some already existing, others produced especially for the book, are a superb evocation of coastal landscapes and of the weather that inevitably assaults a West-facing peninsula. I haven’t traced the chronology on a map, but there is a sense of a journey, as opposed to randomly-selected landmarks and that sits well with the idea of a coastal path.

The text is an account at once of the book, of Paul Lewin’s working methods and of the creative process as a whole. Whether you feel you need it, or whether these two things sit altogether comfortably together, is a matter of personal taste. Although what Paul Gough writes is firmly grounded in the work it accompanies, there is still a slight disconnect due to the tendency to expand and generalise. You might feel, though, that it adds to, rather than detracts from, the book’s appeal.

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Wynford Dewhurst – Manchester’s Monet || Roger Brown

If you’re unfamiliar with the work of Wynford Dewhurst, you might regard the “Monet” claim as bold, perhaps even preposterous. Even a quick glance at this magnificent book will dispel that impression, though. The similarities are remarkable, but it’s also apparent that Dewhurst has a vision of his own and is no mere copyist.

Having initially begun training as a lawyer, Dewhurst made his way to Paris at the age of 27, in 1891, to study art and was immediately attracted to Impressionism. His book, Impressionist Painting: its Genesis and Development, which was published in 1904, was dedicated to Claude Monet. It was the first major study of the movement to be published in English. His contentious thesis was that the English landscape tradition, and especially the work of Constable and Turner, was the at the root of French painting of the day.

It’s clear from the generous number and quality of the illustrations here that Dewhurst had a genuine and serious talent. There is no doubt that he was emulating the work of the man he regarded as the master, and who became his mentor, but his own stands well alongside that of other Impressionists and the English landscape painters he regarded as their precedent. You can judge for yourself, as their work also appears in the book.

Roger Brown, something of a specialist in this field, has resurrected the reputation of a man who, in the end, became something of a footnote in the history of art, despite having been an important figure in his time; albeit he produced little work after 1926 and died in 1941 in relative obscurity. The book accompanies an exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery that, on the basis of what appear here, mérite le détour.

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The Diary of Mary Watts 1887 – 1904 || Desna Greenhow

Mary Watts was a leading designer of the Arts & Crafts movement and founder of the Compton Pottery, as well as the wife of the painter George Frederic Watts. While her husband was alive, she was also an assiduous diarist and recorded both her thoughts on art and on daily life with an artist who was at the height of his powers. There is a narrative to the entries that reflects Mary’s desire to make the most of what she felt was the most wonderful luck that had befallen her: basically, she worshipped Frederic.

The comparatively short period covered by the diaries is explained by the couple’s relative ages. Mary was 32 years Frederic’s junior. When they married in 1886, he was 69, she 36 and the 17 years cover the period from then until Frederic’s death in 1901.

Basing herself at Linnerslease, the house the couple built for themselves at Compton in the Surrey Hills, Mary was able to give full rein to her artistic talents. The diaries, begun at her husband’s suggestion, acted as a confidante where she was able to make the most of what she knew was the precious, but limited, time she would have with Frederic. Written in a tiny, almost illegible hand, there is no particular evidence that the diaries were ever anything other than a personal memoir and they have remained unpublished until now. Desna Greenhow has rightly not chosen everything for this book, but concentrated on those passages that most illuminate Mary and Frederic’s story and the artistic, literary and political circles of the time. As a result, it becomes a social as well as a historical document that, while the style can be a little intense at times – “The sweet blessed air as we drove out was delicious … The blessing hand of the ceiling was over our heads in an instant” – her account of the life of an artist and musings on art and creativity hold the attention well.

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Sketch Your Stuff || Jon Stich

I’ve remarked in the past how refreshing it is when an author provides drawings rather than photographs in the (perhaps) inevitable materials section. It can be revealing of their skills with perspective too, as complex shapes are frequently involved.

When I first picked this up, I thought “I’ll bet it says it’s useful for when you’re stuck for ideas” and sure enough, the back cover blurb begins with just that. I’m not convinced, and I never have been. If you’re stuck for ideas, my guess is that you’re really stuck. However, there are days when you want to practise and it’s too cold or wet, or just not convenient to go out, and that’s when looking around the home is a good idea. And, as I said, there are some complex shapes there that can flex your perspective muscles like nothing else.

This is an imaginative book that will certainly convince you of its premise. Jon’s style is pleasantly loose and he sets himself a variety of challenges that include simple as well as complicated subjects – spectacles, mugs, a pile of tumblers, a self-portrait, an untidy bedroom, even a bathroom. I’m not totally sure he gets the perspective right every time but hey, if you think you can do better – well, there’s your challenge.

This is a book about drawing the mundane, which means noticing things you don’t normally notice, and lifting them out of everyday invisibility. It’s a brave premise and Jon carries it off really rather well.

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Rosie Sanders’ Flowers

Subtitled “a celebration of botanical art”, this beautifully produced and re-produced large-format book does its subject more than justice.

Something of a departure for Batsford, this contains no instructional material, but would sit well with any student or lover of botanical painting. The generous dimensions allow the work to be reproduced at more or less full size and the origination ensures that there are no failures of resolution, as can easily happen if the printing process is not closely monitored.

Rosie’s work has been exhibited at Kew and she has also received no fewer than five gold medals from the Royal Horticultural Society and won the RA miniature award. She has also been compared to Georgia O’Keefe. What this tells us, I think, is that this is work of the highest scientific as well as artistic quality. I said that there is no instructional content, and there is also no commentary other than the botanic information provided by Dr Andreas Honegger.

This is a sumptuous production that would grace any collection of art books.

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Rose Hilton || Ian Collins

Rose Hilton’s is a life of two halves, the first considerably shorter than the second. A promising student at Beckenham School of Art (later part of Ravensbourne College), she was accepted at the RCA with a full scholarship. As well as a concise, but factually full, account of her early chapel-based life, Ian Collins includes a selection of early work that shows not merely promise, but a precocious talent and a distinctly individual voice. It is rare that juvenilia sit well beside mature works, but Rose’s do to the extent that you have to double-check the dates.

And then it all ground to a halt in 1965 when she married Roger Hilton, a pioneer of abstract art and adopted member of the St Ives School, who was twenty years her senior. A demanding man, Hilton seems to have wanted more of a personal assistant than a wife and effectively forbade Rose to pursue her own career. This 10 year sabbatical ended in 1975 with Roger’s death, at which point Rose’s creativity took off like the proverbial rocket. Suppressed for so long, she had had time to consider what it was she wanted from art and to develop her own vision, which sprang out pretty much fully-formed.

Illustratively, the book is dominated by the later works as Rose comes to be regarded as one of the country’s greatest colourists. Now in her eighties she is, he says, “painting better than ever”. Rose is also referred to as a “free spirit”, which perhaps has echoes of the effectual confinement of her marriage and her reaction to it.

This is a full account of the life and work of a major figure in contemporary art.

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Outline: an autobiography || Paul Nash

Paul Nash’s autobiography occupied the last fifteen or so years of his life. Starting in 1930, it was still unfinished when he died suddenly in 1946. The problem, as he acknowledged, was that he struggled to get beyond the start of the First World War, the period up to then being, “another life, another world”.

Eventually published in 1949, the version that exists provides many insights into the life of an artist and the development of a very distinct vision. Many, perhaps even most, artists think visually and struggle to express themselves in words. Nash, however, writes coherently and elegantly and demonstrates considerable self-awareness. It is entirely possible that the events that stopped him in his tracks also promoted this; writers who deal with the same period are similarly introspective and the period has promoted much great and thoughtful literature.

The original publication included a selection of the letters Nash wrote to his wife Margaret from the Western Front and these provide further insights into his state of mind as well as his experience of war. A new element here, though, is Margaret Nash’s previously unpublished memoir of her husband, written in 1951. This goes a long way towards completing the story and filling in many gaps.

The whole is augmented by reproductions of some of Nash’s major works although, as the paper used is more suited to type than images, they serve more as aides-mémoire than actual milestones.

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