This is the second post in a series of posts where Neil Plotkin, who has been living in London for the summer, looks at a some significant painters coming out of the The Slade School of Art in the UK. This article introduces William Coldstream and points to where to look for more information on this significant British perceptual painter.
The Slade School of Art – Part Two, William Coldstream by Neil Plotkin
Though not well known in the United States, William Coldstream could be argued to be one of the most influential artists in the UK since the end of the Second World War. Born in 1908, Coldstream studied at the Slade School of Art. During the 1930’s with a few other artists, he started the Euston Road School. Based on naturalism and realism, the school was a reaction to the prevailing avant-garde of the time. After the war, and building on his methods from the Euston Road School, he taught at the Camberwell School of Art where he had instructed his two best-known students – Patrick George and Euan Uglow. In 1949, he moved to the Slade School of Art as the director bringing with him George as a teacher and Uglow as a student. During his time there he made the Slade an internationally highly regarded institution. Despite this strong legacy, it was when he became Chairman of the National Advisory Council on Art Education that he is considered to have reshaped British art education by issuing what are know as the first and second Coldstream Reports. These reports defined what was necessary for a degree in fine art and design in the UK “to lend academic credibility” to studio practice.
William Coldstream – Seated Nude 1952-3
As for his studio practice, Coldstream would only work from direct observation and measuring was a fundamental part of his working method (and teaching method). As he worked, he would hold his arm straight out and measure with his thumb to his brush and compare it to other elements within the painting-this allowed him to paint without relying exclusively on conventional perspective. To do this sort of measuring, he would put marks within his painting to anchor each part of the painting. It is this marking system that is seen in so many artists that have been influenced by him.
What I find exciting and interesting is if you look at his work and the early work of Uglow and Patrick George, the paintings of the former students are quite similar to their mentor. But as the two matured, their work diverges yet there is still a distinct link to Coldstream – With Uglow, he takes the measuring to an extreme and with George, there is an open and loose brushwork and the open space comes to play a large role (the next two and final postings in the Slade School of Art will be about those two artists).
Orange Tree I 1974-5
Casualty Reception Station, Capua 1944
Havildar Ajmer Singh 1943
Links on William Coldstream
Books to consider (buying them from the link below helps support this site)
The Artist at Work: On the Working Methods of William Coldstream and Michael Andrews [Paperback]
(from the publisher)
With this study, Colin St John Wilson focuses on the working methods of William Coldstream and Michael Andrews, two leading members of the School of London. This is the first full-scale study to focus on the working methods of artists by direct observation – in this case two leading members of the School of London, William Coldstream and Michael Andrews. This comparative analysis contains hitherto unpublished material by the artists and includes the author’s copious notes and his own sketches and photographs of the artists at work painting portraits of him. William Coldstream (1908–1987) was one of the most influential forces in British art in the twentieth century, both in his painting and in his teaching, firstly at the Euston Road School and subsequently in his Headship at Camberwell and the Slade School of Art. Michael Andrews (1928–1995) was his outstanding pupil and quickly established a major reputation in his own right. His work largely took the form of a theme with variations, and the Thames series, sadly unfinished, promised to be his crowning work. Colin St John Wilson bases his study on personal friendship and the experience of an extraordinary number of sittings, 96 with Coldstream and 80 with Andrews, which were the settings for extended discussion with both artists. This fascinating study highlights the very different working methods of the two artists, and yet shows their concern to represent through paint alone the reality of human presence.