No one could accuse Halsgrove of only cherry-picking the big names in art. If Felix Bernasconi is not a household name, the background to this collection gives a clue as to why: it was only after the artist’s death in 2001 that his friend and companion John Bridges rescued hundreds of paintings from certain destruction and set about conserving and cataloguing them. It’s probably not totally unfair to say that Bernasconi was not the greatest artist who has ever walked the earth, but he was competent and has a style which, while owing a lot to much of twentieth century watercolour, is clearly his own.
The world would be a poorer place if this collection had been allowed to disappear because it records a varied catalogue of intimate scenes, rather than famous views and grand vistas, that covers a period from about 1930 through to the end of the century. The paintings are for the most part unpopulated and do not form an obvious historical archive; in fact, it is hard, without dates, to say when any of them might have been painted and this accounts for much of their charm and their longevity. Most of them could date from yesterday and look as modern as anything that was, in fact, painted then.
Bernasconi is always going to be largely a footnote in the history of art, but it’s footnotes that give authority to history and his work has a charm that grows the more you look at it. We should be grateful to John Bridges for his conservation and to Simon Butler, Halsgrove’s Editorial Director, for recognising the importance of what most of us would have missed.
There’s an obvious regional appeal here, of course, but I don’t think that anyone interested in the byways of twentieth century painting would regret the purchase either.