Friday, 19 February 2016

The Class of 1904 part 2…

Nora Cundell

Nora Cundell, Self Portrait on horseback, Marble Canyon, Unsentimental Journey, 1940, p. 95.

Nora Lucy Mowbray Cundell, who was born in May 1889, was a student at the Blackheath School of Art in 1904 and lived locally. In their review of the show, Arts and Crafts Magazine described Cundell’s work as spirited in its conception in comparison with those of another student.[1] Art was in the Cundell genes as her father had exhibited with the Stock Exchange Art Group and his father, her grandfather Henry Cundell, was a renowned landscape painter. After leaving the Blackheath School of Art, Cundell studied at the Westminster Technical Institute under Sickert and then at the Slade from 1911 to 1914 and also in 1919. Many of Cundell’s works reflect the extravagant realism of Sickert and critics in the 1940’s allied this with the belief that her Dutch heritage brought to the fore an influence of Dutch seventeenth century artists like Pieter De Hooch and Johannes Vermeer.[2] Whilst works of this era are in UK collections such as the Tate[3] this is not the area of her career that I wish to focus on here.

I hope it is not too patronising to label Nora Cundell as a prototypical modern woman. From the early 1930’s she travelled on her own to the US and came to be accepted as a native Arizonan. She enjoyed her time in Arizona so much that she travelled there every year from then through to her death in 1948. In Arizona Cundell formed a close affinity with the landscape and people of Marble Canyon. She spent time with the Native Americans, especially the Navajo, in Arizona painting portraits and creating landscapes focusing on the desert.[4] It has been noted that her time in Arizona and south west USA greatly influenced her use of colour, lightening her palette.[5] The expressive use of colour from this period, in paintings like Marble Canyon, Arizona,[6] contrasts markedly with the more earthy realism of paintings like The Back Parlour, Café Loos, Étaples, France.[7]

Nora Cundell, An old Navajo who came to trade, (see note 4).

Nora Cundell, Marble Canyon, Arizona, oil on board, Museum of North Arizona, Flagstaff.

Nora Cundell,The Back Parlour, Café Loos, Étaples, France, Atkinson Gallery Collection.

Cundell published a book, Unsentimental Journey, telling the story of her numerous solo trips to the USA, travelling from New York to Arizona. The book itself is a revelation of anecdotes and observations of the unusual world of America through the eyes of an English woman travelling on her own to the Wild West. Cundell’s strong will comes to the fore in this tome as this was not seen to be the type of journey a British woman would make at this time, let alone on her own. Following her death in Windsor in August 1948 her ashes were brought back to the USA. Her ashes were scattered in Arizona, at the base of Vermilion Cliffs in May 1949.[8] In the history of the Conservatoire and Blackheath Art Schools I would dare to say that she would rate as one of the most fiercely independent and pioneering women.[9]

Nora Cundell, A Part of the Arizona Landscape, Unsentimental Journey, 1940, p. 139.

[1] Arts and Crafts Magazine – ‘In spirited conception, at least, Miss Norah Cundell is not far behind Miss Stanton, in her Nursery Panel of a Children's Cake-Walk’. In the 1911 Royal Academy Exhibition catalogue Cundell's contact address is listed as Llantarnam House, Blackheath, S.E. The picture she exhibited was catalogue no. 721 - Five O'Clock.
[2] Nora Cundell Obituary, Montreal Gazette, 11 September 1948.
[3] Nora Cundell, Smiling Woman, 1922, Tate Gallery - Other works can be seen in the Museum of the Order of St John, London and Rochdale Arts and Heritage Service -
[4] Old Navajo who came to trade, taken from Unsentimental Journey facing page 156.
[5] Shaw Cable, P, Impressionist Imprints in South Western Art, 2014. Essay written to accompany the El Paso Museum of Art exhibition Renoir to Remington: Impressionism to the American West which compares and contrasts Cundell’s Portrait of a Navajo Woman (1939) with Renoir’s Heads of Two Young Girls.
[6] Image sourced from Arizona Daily Sun 16 November 2012. The painting also featured as catalogue no 13 in the exhibition Arizona’s Pioneering Women Artists at the Museum of Northern Arizona, Flagstaff, Arizona from 17 November 2012 to 12 May 2013.
[7] The Back Parlour, Café Loos, Étaples, France, Atkinson Gallery Collection. Image sourced from BBC Your Paintings website -
[8] One Page History of Nora Cundell’s Life from Spring 1934 – May 1949, Colorado Plateau Archives. According to the document Shine Smith scattered her ashes in Marble Canyon and a brass plate was erected commemorating this which read: ‘Nora L M Cundell British artist and author has returned to rest in the place she loved’.
[9] The Galerie Gabrie website includes an anecdote that Cundell drove ambulances in World War 2 -!nora-cundell/c17l7 I am hoping to find more details about this in the future.

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