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Pavement artists in Art!
Screevers have often acted as a muse for well-known society artists. Over the years there have been many paintings, drawings and prints made with the humble pavement artist as subject; so now is the time to blog about my own personal favourites.
In 1829, George Cruikshank made this charming little drawing of a London pavement artist, as part of his Victorian scraps collection for print. From the early 1800s publishers produced picture sheets that were uncoloured or, at extra cost, hand coloured and sold by stationers and booksellers. “Scrap-booking” was one of the popular Victorian pastimes for women and children, in England and in the United States. Fancy stationery stores of the day carried beautiful scrap albums with intricate cover designs and guilt-edged pages, as well as a dazzling array of bright, embossed and die-cut sheets of scraps on many subjects, from religious to educational to romantic. An elaborately complied scrapbook was meant to be admired; in addition to pretty scraps, the book’s owner displayed those items that indicated his or her accomplishments, popularity and taste, such rewards of merit, calling cards, poetry, paintings and drawings.
GEORGE CRUIKSHANK was best known for his illustrations of the books of Charles Dickens. He was also known as the Hogarth of his day. This illustration represents one of the earliest printed representation of a pavement artist.
A was an Artist, was part of a commissioned set of lithographs by British painter William Nicholson. Released to the public as a series of fine art books in 1898, the Alphabet series of lithographs were originally commissioned through a contract with Nicholson’s publisher William Heinemann in 1896. This first one is special, in that it represents a self-portrait of the artist William Nicholson as a pavement artist.
Nicolson was an English painter of still-life, landscape and portraits, also known for his work as a wood-engraver, illustrator, author of children’s books and designer for the theatre. From about 1900 Nicholson concentrated on painting, encouraged by James McNeal Whistler. He first exhibited as a painter at the International Society, of which Whistler was President.
The Little Screever; a charming little etching (measuring about 5 inches by 3 inches) and done by Frank Lewis Emanuel around 1906; and now, proudly, in my own personal collection.
Frank L. Emanuel was deeply occupied with art; he worked as painter, illustrator, printer and art critic. He studied in London at the Slade School under Legros and later at the Academie Julian in Paris. He exhibited from 1881 at the Royal Academy in London and in the Salons of Paris. He travelled widely in Europe, South Africa and Ceylon. He staged watercolour exhibitions and published articles on topographical subjects in the Architectural Review and Manchester Guardian, and Illustrations de Montmartre. He taught etching at the Central School between 1918 and 1930 and one of his paintings can be found in the Tate Gallery.
THE PAVEMENT ARTIST was painted by British expressionist painter, Ruskin Spear, around 1929. Born in Hammersmith, London, Spear was the son of a coach-painter. He studied at Hammersmith School of Art, 1926–30, and the *Royal College of Art, 1931–4, and subsequently taught at various art schools, notably the RCA, where he was a tutor from 1948 to 1977. During the Second World War (when he was exempt from military service because of the after-effects of childhood polio) he took part in the ‘Recording Britain’ scheme (at this time he also played in various bands—he was an accomplished jazz pianist). Spear was best known for his portraits (including many of celebrities) and landscapes, especially views of Hammersmith: in the introduction to the catalogue of Spear’s retrospective exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1980, his friend the painter Robert Buhler (1916–89) remarked that ‘one could say that Ruskin Spear has done for Hammersmith what *Sickert did for Camden Town’. Characteristically his pictures are broadly brushed, with a spontaneous, improvisatory look.
Less typical works include an altarpiece (the Annunciation) for the church of St Clement Danes, London (1958), replacing one destroyed in the Second World War, and murals for the liner Canberra (1959). Like Sickert, he sometimes worked from news photographs.
Written and researched by Philip Battle