In April we would have had the Randolph Schwabe exhibition up and running and be welcoming you to the opening but little did we know when Amber and I started planning it last year that we would all be 'locked down' and our cultural oases like Burgh House off limits. Still all is not lost, there is much to share and celebrate as we explore alternative ways of bringing this major exhibition which drew on Burgh House's collection and loans from national galleries to you all. We wanted to showcase Schwabe's skill as a painter, draughtsman and illustrator and his career at the Slade School while also featuring his wide circle of friends including some of the most important artists and writers living and working in Hampstead.
But perhaps I should briefly introduce myself – I have been a Friend of Burgh House for a number of years and during the last decade or so have got to know the area better as I researched the biography of Randolph Schwabe (1885-1948) who lived at 20, Church Row from 1928-45. I had previously written Evelyn Dunbar: War and Country (2006) and guest curated the first retrospective of her work at St Barbe Museum & Art Gallery, Lymington where I am presently working on an exhibition on The Seasons.
But back to Schwabe, given his long association with Hampstead it seemed timely to hold an exhibition at Burgh House. Significantly he kept a diary from January 1930 until his death in 1948 and as I, and perhaps some of you, struggle to keep a Covid Diary I continue to admire his diligence. Having edited his observations and musings on people, events and his own artistic practice which resulted in the publication of The Diaries of Randolph Schwabe: British Art 1930-48 in 2016 it became apparent that there is much to share.
So, for now to whet your appetite for further updates about the exhibition I thought I'd share a couple of letters to Schwabe and extracts from his diary as the artists mentioned will all be featured:
Letter from Mark Gertler whose studio was close to Burgh House
21 June 1931
We were disappointed you were not able to come last night ... I have also been wanting to see you privately, as for some time now I have had a suggestion to make which I think you might consider as worth while. It is – that you have a Still Life Class at the Slade and in which I should teach! I suggest this not only in my own interest, but because I think that Still Life is an excellent means to learn how to paint and, as you know, I have done perhaps more of it myself than most people – and have therefore much experience. ... so please tell me what you think. If there is anything in the idea, perhaps we could meet somewhere and talk it over.
Extracts from Schwabe's Diaries
Saturday 4 May 1940
Left Oxford 3.30 for London [The Slade had been evacuated to share premises with The Ruskin School of Art] ... Dinner with the Ayrtons [architect, lived at 9 Church Row]. Tony [their son] is in France, with his camouflage unit. He has his picture of Donald Towner* [lived at 8 Church Row] hung in the R.A.. [William] Clause* [lived at 16 New End Square, now 34 Well Walk] has two paintings there ... * We will be exhibiting the RA work showing Towner playing the flute and 2 paintings by Clause including Treating the Wounded, 1943 which was painted when he was an air raid warden.
Wednesday 23 April 1941
In London for my committee [War Artists' Advisory Committee]. Fresh ruins after the heavy 'blitz' on Wednesday & Saturday ... A land mine has fallen in the centre of Willie Clause's studio in New End, but has not, so far, gone off. ...