Grace Pailthorpe - Surrealist composition

Grace Pailthorpe (1883-1971) was born in Sussex and served as a surgeon in World War I. After the conflict she turned to psychology, setting up what eventually became the Portman Clinic. She met the Surrealist painter Reuben Mednikoff in 1935 and they embarked on a life study of psychological art research.

Pailthorpe fell out with the main British Surrealist group in the late 1930s but continued to paint until her death. Leeds City Art Gallery in 1998 held a major retrospective of her and Mednikoff’s work entitled Sluice Gates of the Mind. Mayor Gallery and others also showed her work.

SAUTER, Rudolf

Rudolf Sauter - cloud formation

Rudolf Helmut Sauter (1895-1977), often known as R H Sauter, was a painter, printmaker, illustrator and poet, son of the artist George Sauter. He was educated at Harrow School, studying art in London and Munich, his father having come from Bavaria. Sauter had strong literary interests, being a member of the writers’ club PEN; he illustrated a definitive edition of works by his uncle John Galsworthy.

Sauter showed at the Royal Academy, the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour, the Pastel Society, in the provinces, at the Paris Salon where he gained an Hon. Mention, and widely in the United States. He also had one-man shows in London and New York.

Although Sauter’s work is mainly figurative, in later life he did a series of abstracts. Many of Sauter’s paintings were destroyed by a fire in the 1980s but the National Portrait Gallery, Government Art Collection, Royal Watercolour Association and Ferens Art Gallery in Hull hold his work. Cornelia Parker chose a 1935 Sauter portrait as part of her hang of the Government Art Collection at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 2011.


Jack Smith - Fractured (to the left of pink)

Jack Smith (1928-2011) was born in Sheffield, before studying at St Martin’s School of Art 1948-50, Royal College of Art 1950-3 and then settling in London. He showed at Beaux Arts from 1953, initially painting in a neo-realist ‘Kitchen Sink’ style. But from the mid-1950s he became more interested in the play of light on shapes and eventually became a meticulous abstractionist.

Smith taught at various colleges and in 1956 won first prize at the John Moores Liverpool Exhibition, by which time he was also showing in the United States.

Major exhibitions included retrospectives at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1959 and Serpentine Gallery 1978. In more recent years Smith was represented by Flowers East Gallery in London.

The Tate Gallery, Arts Council, British Council and many provincial and foreign galleries hold his work.

SPENDER, Humphrey


Humphrey Spender (1910-2005), brother of poet Stephen Spender, was a designer and renowned photographer on Mass Observation as well as an accomplished artist. London-born but based in New Malden in Essex in later years, Spender initially trained as an architect before turning to photography, design and art. He said he hoped that his paintings, many powerful but impressionistic depictions of marshlands and rivers in Essex, “might make people see differently”.

As well as numerous mixed shows, Spender had solo painting exhibitions at the Redfern, Leicester Galleries and New Art Centre in London and at many provincial venues. Tate Gallery, Victoria & Albert Museum, Government Art Collection, British Council and many provincial galleries hold his work.

STURGESS-LIEF, Christopher

Christopher Sturgess-Lief- The Moon of Thoth with Black Hole


Chris Sturgess-Lief (1937-2011) was a self-taught painter who created evocative and poetic pictures using a highly individual private symbolism. Adopted as a baby, possibly from ethnic German parents in the Soviet Union, Sturgess-Lief was schooled at Sherborne, Dorset.

After army service in Malaya, he then moved to London and began showing on the Hyde Park railings in the early 1960s. He was spotted by Victor Musgrave of Gallery One, who gave Sturgess-Lief a solo show in 1962. He also exhibited at Rye Art gallery in 1969 and took part in mixed shows at New Vision Centre, Leicester Galleries, Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol in 1963 and others in Japan and the United States.

His Red Painting was included in the Belgrave Gallery’s 1992 show British abstract art of the 1950s and 60s, and in 1997 Julian Hartnoll in St James’ put on a solo exhibition of his work.  A contemporary of the highly sought after Martin Bradley and Alan Davie, his work is comparable both in terms of style and quality.

TIRR, Willy

Willy Tirr - untitled

Willy Tirr (1915-1991) was born to German Jewish parents in Berlin and fled to England as war loomed. Self-taught as an artist, Tirr was interned in the UK and Australia before service in the British Army in intelligence. He was part of the unit that liberated Bergen-Belsen and was involved in the de-Nazification programme in Germany after the war.

On his return to England in 1947 he married and moved to Leeds, where his parents had found refuge. Tirr had continued to paint during the war, even having an exhibition in Normandy before the end of hostilities, but helped his family in a lamp-shade business to help make ends meet.

By the early 1950s Tirr’s expressionistic landscapes were giving way to a purer abstract style, influenced by the St Ives group in England but also American Abstract Expressionism, Taschism and Zen Buddhism.

Tirr started teaching at Leeds College of Art in 1957 and that same year had a joint exhibition at Austin Hayes Gallery in York with Terry Frost.

His reputation as an innovative modern artist grew and Tirr from 1957-1973 had solo shows in London in New Vision, Drian, AIA, Rowan, Ben Uri and Grabowski galleries amongst others. Other one-man shows were held in Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle and many other Northern cities and in Switzerland, Australia and Canada.

Tirr ran what became Leeds Polytechnic School of Art in a turbulent period in the late 1960s and 1970s; he was then best known for his shaped canvases and watercolours, but his acrylics on canvas were particularly powerful.

Inner turmoil and European sensibilities combined to give his work a depth that marks him out as one of the finest abstract and expressionist painters in Britain from the 1950s to the 1970s. His work is held in many British public collections, though mainly in the North, and in public galleries in Australia and Israel.


Freda Wadsworth - untitled


Freda Wadsworth (1918-2003) studied at Brighton School of Art from 1936-39 but during the war years served as a volunteer nurse. At the war’s end she combined these two disciplines by training as a medical artist, and after various hospital appointments became the artist at the postgraduate Institute of Urology, University of London.

The profession at this time was in its early days and the work was innovative, requiring a wide range of techniques and a detailed knowledge of anatomy. In 1968 she was elected Fellow of the Medical Artists Association. She later developed a technique of film animation using plasticene models for the clarification of surgical procedures and in 1979 was awarded an MBE for services to medicine.

From 1979 onwards she made a complete break with representational work and developed a unique technique using gouache suitable for expressing a continuing fascination with geometrical forms. In 1984 she was elected Fellow of the Free Painters and Sculptors.

Her abstracts were shown at the Barbican, Mall Galleries, Bloomsbury Galleries, and four one-person exhibitions at the Loggia Gallery. Roy Rasmussen, president of the Society of Free Painters and Sculptors said “Freda Wadsworth’s paintings were superficially abstract, but conveyed other meanings, the references being sometimes in the titles. Using a painstaking technique they had luminosity and evoked medieval times and a world of secret symbols, and yet were undeniably modern paintings. There was a mystery in them, which was part of the artist’s intention. They were flights of the imagination, with a challenge to interpret them.”

Her work was part of the Manhattan collection of women artists accumulated by influential feminist painter Sylvia Sleigh (wife of art critic Lawrence Alloway). This collection was bequeathed to the Rowan University Art Gallery, New Jersey and key works, including a 1990 gouache by Wadsworth, were shown in the 2011 exhibition ‘Groundbreaking’.

WILSON, Frank Avray

Frank Avray Wilson - untitled


Frank Avray Wilson (1914-2009) was born in Mauritius and trained as a scientist, gaining a master’s degree in biology at Cambridge before his strong interest in art led him to study painting in Norway and France. In 1956 Avray Wilson helped Denis Bowen found the New Vision Centre Gallery, a showplace for abstract and other modern art.

Initially inspired by American Expressionism, Avray Wilson produced some of the most dynamic abstracts of the post-war period in Britain. His work ranged from spiky linear compositions, through others more spare and geometric towards a mature style that comprised images both disciplined and energetic.

Avray Wilson sought “to create a synthetic vitality, more living than life, the means of supplying our anti-vital, anti-human society with intense symbols”. His scientific background was of key importance in understanding his approach to painting, which he expounded in four books.

London-based, Avray Wilson had a first solo show at Obelisk Gallery in 1954 and later showed at Leicester Galleries, Redfern Gallery, the Royal Academy and Austin/Desmond Fine Art amongst others. He gained a strong reputation in Europe, notably in Belgium and in France where he also exhibited.

He was represented for many years by the Redfern Gallery and was included in Redfern’s 50th anniversary show in 2007. Recent solo exhibitions in London have been given by Paisnel Gallery and Whitford Fine Art.

Avray Wilson’s work is held in the United States by the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburg and Cleveland Museum of Modern Art in Ohio. Public collections in the UK include the Arts Council and galleries in Durham, Leeds, Leicester, Swansea and Wakefield.


Gary Wragg - Green Snake


Gary Wragg (1946-) was born in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, studying at the School of Art there from 1962-66, then at Camberwell 1966-9 and Slade School of Fine Art 1969-71. He won travelling scholarships to Italy, Mexico and the United States before teaching at a number of British art schools.

His work – mainly large-scale abstracts conveying energy and intensity – began appearing in major mixed exhibitions including British Painting at the Hayward Gallery in 1974, British Painting 1952-77 in 1977 at the Royal Academy, the Sydney Biennale in 1982 and John Moores Exhibitions in Liverpool in 1991 and 2001.

Solo shows included Nicola Jacobs Gallery 1982-86 and Goldsmiths’ College Gallery in 1990 and he had a number of one-man exhibitions at Flowers Central and Flowers East.

Major retrospectives have been held by Alan Wheatley Art and the Paisnel Gallery. London based, Wragg’s work is held amongst others by The Arts Council of Great Britain, the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and, internationally, at the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the National Gallery in South Africa.