Arthur Jeffress for Painting
Academic paper on the emergence of London as one of the world’s
three art capitals, with particular reference to the Arthur Jeffress Gallery.
Art Historians' Conference
major annual academic conference
independent curator, writer and consultant on contemporary visual arts.
The rubric to today’s session rightly singles out
the Hanover gallery in London (1948-1973) [as] championing a new
notion of art dealing and playing a significant role in shaping the emergence of London as one of the world’s ‘three art capitals’
alongside Paris and New York.
My paper seeks to focus upon the role played by Arthur Jeffress not only as the Hanover’s major financial backer but as a collector and, from 1954, a kind of competitor to the Hanover while running his own gallery Arthur Jeffress (Pictures) until his suicide aged 55 in 1961. I will bring a few other key figures out of the shadows.
I have qualified Jeffress’ role as
a kind of competitor because he had no intention of being the sort of dealer that, to quote
John Russell in Private View, 1965, takes on:
an envelopment of the artist ... which has now reached a stage at which any dealer who wants to get on must expect to do practically everything for his artists except brush their teeth and do up their shoes. The old-style spasmodic relationship could not survive in an age when dealing means marketing, and when in the intervals of marketing the dealer must be estate agent, employment agency, psychoanalyst, sea lawyer, chauffeur, maquereau [pimp], social secretary, handyman, investment counsellor, impresario and scribe.
Arthur Jeffress wanted these tasks done for him. Erica Brausen was more or less prepared to do all of this and more for Francis Bacon, the raison d’être of the Hanover’s first few years. While the sale of his Painting (1946) to MoMA established both the artist and his dealer, the profit on the sale had been quite small; the money that Bacon spent in Monte Carlo was mostly that of Jeffress and his fellow backers, the Barker-Mills, rather than Erica Brausen’s.
How did Jeffress, Brausen and the Barker-Mills come together in 1946?
In 1946 and 1947 (and I am indebted to Peter Jones from Southampton Solent University for much of this information), two exhibitions were held in the unlikely setting of the Judges’ Lodgings in Winchester under the auspices of the CSA or Circle for the Study of Art. Its initials are deliberately close to those of CAS or the Contemporary Art Society.
It is not at all clear who was behind CSA but a key player if not the eminence grise must have been Lorraine Conran, curator of Southampton City Art Gallery which, shortly after it opened was bombed in November 1940 with the loss of 14 lives of those in the art school which was housed in the same building, It is not known when Conran first met Jeffress but Conran lived in Chelsea in the 1930s before he was appointed to the gallery in 1939. By 1946, Jeffress was back from his war time adventures and so was Conran. He needed to rebuild his gallery fast and to re-create it in a new light so wisely approached local collectors for their support.
He lost no time in getting back in touch with Jeffress who had lived at nearby Marwell House from 1934. He lived there with his lover John Deakin until the war.
In early 1946, Jeffress replied warmly to a letter from Conran which makes it clear (“How nice to hear from you after all this time”) that the curator had visited Marwell pre-war. Arthur takes up the correspondence again in July 1946 and, in a splendidly co-ordinated and speedy exercise of liaison which had been his war time work, Jeffress lent a sizeable number of his paintings to the gallery for an exhibition only a month later from 19 August to 21 September 1946.
The list included his Picasso portrait of Dora Maar, de Chirico’s The Painter’s Family and works by Soutine, Rouault,
Derain, Modigliani, Balthus, Dufy, Vuillard and Vlaminck. Jeffress mentions that he wants to sell his de Chirico:
You remember it in
the hall – huge rhomboid faceless heads & bodies filled with rectangular shapes? It is very cheap - £200 – would the gallery be
dashing enough to buy it?”
They were not so dashing; it was sold instead to Princess Marie Callimachi and then purchased by the Tate in 1961, at exactly the same time as the Jeffress Bequest was being allocated to them and Southampton.
During the war the Picasso was in the safe keeping of Jeffress’s boyhood friend Henry Clifford, by then curator of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He also conducted a brief correspondence as Dora in French while Jeffress was in the ambulance service in Africa. Clifford had almost certainly guided the purchase of the de Chirico and Picasso; Balthus’ La Caserne was the idea of Jeffress’ closest friend in Paris, André Ostier, who ran a bookshop and gallery (A La Main) before devoting himself to the photography of high society and artists.
Jeffress had lived with Deakin in Paris for 6 months in the mid- 1930s and it may have been Ostier that introduced Deakin to photography; passively perhaps as, allegedly, Deakin simply picked up a camera after a party. Until that point he had tried to establish himself as a painter and painted Jeffress as a Pearly King.
Coincidentally, Dora Maar, herself a photographer, captured this Pearly King in London on Empire Day, 1935.
Back at CSA, a fascinating range of collectors from Hampshire, Dorset and the Sussex borders lent works and sadly there is no time
to explore them fully here. Angus Wilson (the orchid grower not novelist) and his partner Paul Odo Cross lent several works.
The latter was a sometime lover of Cedric Morris who had painted Conran’s portrait. But it is Jeffress’ loans that are startling and
one in particular. He lent, both to CSA and to Southampton City Art Gallery, a 1946 Abstraction by Jackson Pollock. There is not time
today to look into the identity or source of this work as neither of these facts is clearly resolved. He might have owned a painting
and a drawing but whatever he bought Jeffress always loathed abstraction. He wrote to his modernist architect cousin about his new
flat in 1958:
there is not a smell of an Abstract, not the merest act of an Action painting, and not a trace of a tache of Tachiste.
But he decided to take a gamble on the new young star Pollock, persuaded to do so by either Peggy Guggenheim or Betty Parsons just
before he returned via New York to London at the end of the war.
That is a small part of the hinterland of the man that Erica Brausen met at a party and persuaded to back her proposed gallery. They had a certain amount in common – both gay, not technically British, although Arthur was a Harrow and Cambridge man but of American parents; a passion for art and not at such odds in that regard as is often described. Erica’s obituary, and indeed the highly personal memoir of her written by Jean-Yves Mock which you can find on my website, might imply that she appeared fully formed as a dealer in 1946 and kept a modernist flag flying on her own for decades. I hope by providing a more realistic background she, too, becomes more believable and admirable. Maintaining an air of realism is quite hard to do with the ever present and glorious Toto van Koopman at her side and in her case I can only refer you to the fairy tale recent biography of Miss Koopman and M. Mock’s memoir.
Brausen and Jeffress may well have met earlier, in Paris in the 1930s. Brausen lived in Montparnasse near Les Clos de Lilas and had an affair with Ernst Goldfinger. By 1946, she was at the beginning of her lifelong love affair with Toto. She married that year, too. Brausen had been accepted as German national in Britain throughout the war, arriving in London in the late 1930s and had worked in fashion and at the Storran, St George’s and Redfern galleries. She is also supposed to have organised exhibitions in artists’ studios and this is most likely to have been at her own home in the Bolton Studios where her landlord was Raoh Schorr, a highly successful Swiss sculptor, an animalier and decorative artist (his Bengal Tiger is in the Tate). Schorr introduced her to a young gay artist, the love of his life incidentally, and they had a marriage of convenience. By extraordinary coincidence although the artist, Clem Haizelden, lost touch with his entire family after 1951, his little sister, an artist herself, married the sculptor William Tucker. Clem and Erica continued to see each other in London and they never divorced.
Erica Brausen wanted very much to run a gallery and Jeffress, revivified after an energetic war and no longer a country gent with Deakin as a drain on his purse, wanted an interesting job that used his newly discovered skills. Post-war London and its art scene were dull:
a rose garden in which the Cuisse de Nymphe had dropped off the stalk, moth had made short work of the climbing Mermaid, and Madame Alfred Carrière had been ploughed up for turnips.
This is John Russell once more and Jeffress would have loved that E. H. Benson tone and rose garden analogy.
The Hanover was not the only new gallery on the block when it finally opened in 1948; Marlborough, Gimpel Fils and Roland, Browse and Delbanco were also all brand new in that year of the austerity Olympics. The well-established galleries, like the Leicester so well explained by Dr. Silber, also included Tooth’s and Lefevre and the powerful smaller modernist galleries like The Mayor and Zwemmer were still strongly present. The Hanover took over The St George’s Gallery’s premises and another time and place will be found for a look at the role played by Erica Brausen’s peers: other powerful emigrées women dealers, sometimes lesbian, such as Ala Storey, Lilian Browse, Lea Bondi-Jaray of the St George’s and the remarkable art patron Peter Norton who created the London Gallery with her cousin Rita Strettell.
Probably through her time at the Storran, Brausen became friends with Elsa Masters née Dun who exhibited there in the 1930s and later became Mrs Peter Barker-Mill. Peter Barker-Mill, also an artist, had been at school with Jeffress but was quite a bit younger and doubtless it was Erica Brausen who persuaded her friend Elsa to back the enterprise along with her husband’s fellow old Harrovian. Peter Barker-Mill was a member of the Artists International Association and exhibited once at the Hanover himself. After their divorce, Elsa kept her interest in the gallery but was easily persuaded out of it by Jeffress in 1954. Barker-Mill and his new wife Caroline went on, amongst many other things, to help create the Arnolfini.
It is hardly worth wondering why, with their different motives and lives, they all parted company. It is more worthwhile to speculate why they ever thought their partnership would work. Erica Brausen’s talents cannot be disputed. Jeffress brought money, knowledge of how collectors think and his own good address book. William Feaver has pointed out that Lucien Freud produced a series of paintings precisely to tempt Jeffress’ gay circle in about 1952. But Jeffress objected to being thought of by Erica Brausen as a sleeping partner and a bit of a joke at that. This is how posterity (in memoirs and elsewhere) has also usually seen him. He disliked Bacon spending their (his) profits on the sort of indulged life that Jeffress enjoyed himself. Jeffress was serious about the art he enjoyed and had the great good sense to offer Robert Melville a job at the Hanover.
Melville had left school at 14 and only by the time he was 41 in 1946 was he confident enough in his own work as a critic, especially writing on Picasso and on Surrealism, to move with his family to London. He got a job at the London Gallery but couldn’t stand the pace of E.L.T. Mesens’ after work drinking sessions and asked Jeffress for a job instead. When Jeffress left the Hanover, Melville left with him and they became indivisible in the running of Arthur Jeffress (Pictures).
Jeffress’ serious approach and prominence as a collector was not unnoticed at the time. The Institute of Contemporary Art had been founded, primarily, by Roland Penrose, Peter Watson, Herbert Read and Peter Gregory in 1946. Mesens and Robert Melville, amongst others less active, were also on the committee. By March 1948, just before the Hanover finally opened to the public, the ICA was riven by problems and Penrose wrote in an internal memo:
There is a lot of 'dead wood' in the committee. I would like to propose that we ask those members of the committee who have never attended a meeting to resign, and if they like, to suggest a substitute. I would also propose that we should approach Peggy Ashcroft for Theatre, John Arlott for Radio, Arthur Jeffress for Painting, Louis MacNiece for Literature, Frederick Lawes for Press and Publicity, Margaret Gardiner for Education and possibly Arnold Haskell for Ballet.
Jeffress was also at a meeting six months later at the office of Horizon magazine as part of an ICA sub-committee planning an exhibition. He was a substantial lender to what became '40000 Years of Modern Art: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern' which opened in December 1948. The Hanover’s own Sunday Painters show opened a fortnight after the Horizon meeting.
However, there is no doubt that Jeffress’ approach to his gallery was to aim at comparatively modest private collectors and not
at museums. It would be overweening and plain wrong to describe Arthur’s
Manifesto for Painting
as radical or political but he was making a firm and distinctive case for a particular European taste in painting that was popular
in France, even more so in Italy, but not at that point in England. In 1954 he wrote from his home in Venice to the dealer Edwin
Livengood at Galerie Berri in Paris:
I believe that the policy of my new Gallery of specialisation will intensify the London
market for this kind of painting ...
It was a taste that was a gentle and distant cousin to surrealism, made links between Old Masters (the little masters, at least) and sympathetic contemporary artists. Most importantly, the work was story-telling rather than coolly cerebral and could be explained (and therefore easily and repeatedly sold) to buyers whose world was theatre, film, novels and journalism. It was nostalgic, unpretentious and spoke of charming things rather than existential nihilism. It was certainly not anything like that of Francis Bacon who finally left the Hanover for the Marlborough Gallery in 1958. Arthur noted with glee that Michael Behrens also loathed Bacon. Behrens was a banker who simply walked in one day and bought the Hanover Gallery at the 11th hour when Erica Brausen mentioned despondently but in passing to him that she was closing the next day. Behrens owned the Ionian Bank and the restaurant La Resèrve and was a leading player in the oil business. He and his wife Felicity lived at Culham Court, near Henley, for which they collected fine English furniture and contemporary art. They were Jeffress’s sort of client.
His gallery appealed to those with an eye for décor rather than debate and it was furnished accordingly with grey walls, bright
green carpet, good lighting and Charles X furniture. His homes in London and Venice also acted as mis-en-scenes for works of art
that were mostly for sale. His personal taste in painting, as his ever-changing collection reveals, lay at a point somewhere between
Sunday Painters and Modern French Masters, with a filigree edging of work from the 19th century and a very large element of primitive
exoticism and the unexpected. This included an early taste for the revivals of Monsu Desiderio, Arcimboldo, Atkinson Grimshaw and
Tissot. Furniture was at least as important to him as paintings and his approach to sculpture was largely negligible. The gallery
represented no artists, unlike the innovative Hanover or Gimpel Fils. It had a regular stock of works that he and Robert Melville
purchased from other dealers or at auction but which did not always end up in their exhibitions. Such works included minor old masters
and young artists, too. The stock and exhibitions reflected Arthur’s own taste and judgment but he never attempted to sell or show
works by Picasso or Monet although he owned very fine examples; he owned, but never hung on his walls, at least one work by Jackson
Pollock. He had a deep friendship with Graham Sutherland whose work he exhibited, sold, and commissioned but he still had reservations
about its abstract qualities. As Peyton Skipwith has commented:
The taste was not 'cutting edge' but specifically appealed to
the more esoteric connoisseur ... exquisite for exquisites.
It would be wrong to assume that Arthur’s taste was simply camp and decorative (although it was indeed both those things) while all the intelligent exhibitions were held elsewhere, such as the Hanover and the ICA. Their achievements are assured and legendary but Arthur Jeffress (Pictures) is no mere period piece and there was more of a programme overlap than is usually thought. E. Box showed first at the Hanover, later at Betty Parsons, and Peggy Guggenheim used to send cards which reproduced that very cosy Sunday Painter’s work. It is also clear that Arthur made real studio visits: certainly as far as the Northern coal fields to see the Ashington Group while he was still at the Hanover. John Russell quotes Hazlitt on Colnaghi, describing that gallery as “a point to aim at in a morning’s walk – a relief and satisfaction in the motley confusion, the vulgarity of common life.” The Hanover aimed for so much more than this; Arthur Jeffress (Pictures) settled happily for just this point.
Robert Melville later described Jeffress as a not very good dealer, meaning that he rarely made significant sales, used the gallery as a deliberate way of enhancing his own collection and considered the best kind of exhibitions to be the ones that simply sold out.
In a 1958 novel, Love in a Mist by Rosalind Packard, the American heroine, fears that she will be marooned in a northern English town: “No Tate? No taxis? No trams? No Battersea Power Station? No Harrods?” and knows she will long for the “mink-Mitsouko-espresso-Molyneux Cinq-expensive-furniture-polish smell of the Brompton Road.” Finally, she and her husband do move from London: “I longed for the Festival Hall and Arthur Jeffress (Pictures) and my nice, gossipy chums.”
Jeffress was brilliant at self and gallery publicity: the two were the same to him and in this regard he was ahead of his time. Articles about his homes, his gondola and his hamster fur-lined coat abound (the coat was delivered to the gallery just when the King of Sweden and a reporter had dropped by). He had spent a rather flamboyant, louche time in his 20s, one of the BYT, and worked hard to keep that image in abeyance while promoting the newer life en prince.
At the end of his life, Melville – the unsung admin hero who kept offices in Birmingham then the Hanover and Jeffress galleries in London running on full, practical integrity for about 60 years – said that if he had ever run his own gallery it would have been a combination of that of Arthur Jeffress and Robert Fraser. Had Jeffress not taken his own life in 1961, Robert Melville might have led him in that direction. The first summer show after Jeffress’ death was New Approaches to the Figure which included Pauline Boty, Richard Hamilton and David Hockney and it had been selected in full agreement with Jeffress who loved Hockney’s gold bag and commented that “he couldn’t refuse someone dressed like that.” Nonetheless, Richard Hamilton’s first exhibition had been at The Hanover as early as 1955.
As well as 99 paintings bequeathed to Southampton, the Tate received two works that describe the two extremes of Jeffress’ taste: one, an exquisite portrait of Emile Bernard by Toulouse Lautrec and Andre Bauchant’s Funeral Procession of Alexander the Great which always hung in Jeffress’ bedroom and caused Robert Melville to compare him to the character of Vathek in William Beckford’s novel:
Vathek, to conciliate the Spirits of the subterranean palace, resolved that his expedition should be uncommonly splendid. With this view he confiscated on all sides the property of his subjects, whilst his worthy mother stripped the seraglios she visited of the gems they contained. She collected all the sempstresses and embroiderers of Samarah and other cities to the distance of sixty leagues, to prepare pavilions, palanquins, sofas, canopies, and litters for the train of the monarch. There was not left in Masulipatam a single piece of chintz, and so much muslin had been bought up to dress out Bababalouk and the other black eunuchs, that there remained not an ell in the whole Irak of Babylon.