Thursday, 22 December 2016

James Woodford: Sculptor, printmaker and teacher at the Blackheath School of Art in the early 1930's

My best plans never quite work out and again I have gone further astray in an attempt to keep these entries chronological. I suppose discovering exciting connections will always pull me away from my best laid plans. On this occasion my focus has settled on the sculptor James Woodford.

Robert Austin, Portrait of James Woodford, 1926, red chalk with black chalk highlights.
Source: Liss Llewellyn Fine Art.
James Arthur Woodford was born in Nottingham in 1893. He studied at the Nottingham School of Art in the early 1910’s and won the Prix de Rome in 1922 for sculpture whilst a student at the RCA.[1] Robert Austin was also a Rome scholar having won the award in engraving in 1922 and the two would have known each other at the RCA. Austin produced a portrait of Woodford in chalk in 1926 which depicted him as an immense man with a strong sideways gaze. Woodford was later a model for the figure holding the crucifix in Austin’s Man and Crucifix and Man with a Cross (Liss Llewellyn Fine Art). The two were brothers in law through marriage[2] and the Austin – Woodford family connections continued as both Woodford and Robert’s younger brother Frederick Austin worked at Blackheath School of Art in the early 1930’s (more about Frederick Austin soon).

James Woodford, Blackheath School of Art Prospectus 1931-1932 featuring A Muse: Euterpe.
Source:Collection of the Blackheath Conservatoire.

James Woodford, A Muse: Euterpe (?), Wood block, circa 1931.
Source: Liss Llewellyn Fine Art - more here
Woodford taught sculpture and life drawing at the school between 1931 and 1934 according to the prospectuses produced for these years. This is where my interest in Woodford began as I have believed for some time that the cover of the 1931 – 32 prospectus, depicting a female muse in a landscape, playing an instrument was by designed by him. The influence of Eric Gill can be seen in the black and white silhouette of the figure. The connection and opportunity to securely attribute the work to Woodford became apparent when I discovered that the original woodblock still exists. Thanks to the Liss Llewellyn Fine Art website I have been able to see an image of the original block.

Hans Ladenspoder,  Euterpe from The so-called Tarocchi cards of Mantegna, 16th century.
Source: Courtesy of the British Museum.

Briseis Painter (Greek (Attic), active 510 - 470 B.C.), and Brygos (Greek (Attic), active about 490 - 470 B.C.), Attic Red-Figure Cup, about 480 - 470 B.C., Terracotta, 11.2 × 38.9 × 30.7 cm
Source: Courtesy of The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Two wooden auloi (pipes), Greek, 5thC BC-4thC BC (?)
Source: Courtesy of The British Museum.

Focusing on the instrument played by the Muse it appears that Woodford depicted Euterpe, the muse of music, dance and lyrical poetry. She plays an aulos (also known as a double-flute via a mistranslation) a double-reeded instrument whose modern equivalent is the oboe.[3] Illustrations of Euterpe playing the aulos have been popular from classical Greek times onwards. A sixteenth century image of Euterpe inspired by Mantegna’s Tarocchi Cards is in the British Museum showing the pipes seemingly stuck closely together rather than held together by a bracket as depicted by Woodford.[4] A classical Greek cup in the Getty collection depicts a reveller playing an aulos similar in style to the one depicted by Woodford (see above). The above example of auloi pipes can be seen in the British Museum. The invention of the aulos was once attributed to Euterpe although the creation of this instrument is now credited to Marsyas. He had supposedly either crafted it or picked it up after it was discarded by Athena. This was the instrument that Marsyas played in his competition against Apollo, who played the lyre, ultimately leading to his flaying at the hands of the God.[5]

Woodford’s relief sculptures were influenced by John Edgar Platt (more about him soon – he is planned to be my next blog entry), the school’s principal, and vice versa as has been well described on the Modern Printmakers blog. More about this can be seen here.

James Woodford, Detail of RIBA doors, 66 Portland Place, London 1934.

One of my favourite works by Woodford are the bronze entrance doors of RIBA. They were installed in 1934 so Woodford must have been working on them whilst teaching here. The bronze cast doors are a record of twentieth century London and life along the River Thames. The motifs stand out through their strong lines which create a stylized simplicity of the objects. The stylised lines representing the currents of the river are particularly appealing to me which can be seen in the above image.

Works by Woodford can be seen throughout the UK from the City of London to Nottingham and beyond. He is also well remembered for his colossal plaster statues of The Queen’s Beasts installed at the front of Westminster Abbey for the Coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953 (granite copies of which can be seen at Kew Gardens in front of the main conservatory). Woodford was one of the foremost figurative and architectural sculptors of the twentieth century and it must have been a coup for Platt to have him as a teacher at the Blackheath School of Art. As with all of my entries I will add more information as and when it becomes available.

[1] He is listed as Arthur Woodford and as an ‘art student’ in the 1911 census. His address at this time was 36 Alfred Street, South Nottingham.
[2] James Woodford was married to Rose Harrison whose sister Ada Mae Harrison was married to Robert Austin.
[3] Hall, J, Hall’s Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art, 2000, p. 217. Euterpe’s attribute is described as a flute, often double. It is also listed under ‘Pipe’ (p. 248) describing it as technically not a flute but a reed instrument like an oboe known in Latin as a tibia.
[4] Classical images do show the aulos joined together by a bracket so they are not tightly stuck together. 
[5] Titian's The Flaying of Marsyas depicts the story in gory detail and includes a dog lapping up the blood dripping from the flayed body of Marsyas. I first encountered this sunning picture in the Titian exhibition at The National Gallery in 2003. In this painting Marsyas' instrument, pan pipes not an aulos, hangs from the tree above his feet.

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