From North Yorkshire to the West Midlands - Albert Wainwright, a legacy

A collection of 10 orginal work by one of the UK's favourite artists come to the market this Saturday.  These never before seen works, have been consigned via the Wainwright estate, and offer a diverse look at this controversial artist's work.

The 10 lots are offered within a price range of £120- £1,200 on Saturday 11th January.

Who was Albert Wainwright ?

Albert Wainwright was born in 1898 in Castleford in the borough of Wakefield. The youngest of three children, he had a Methodist religious upbringing and was expected by his father to follow in his footsteps and become an engineer. It was thanks to the help of his perceptive art teacher at Castleford Secondary school, Alice Gostick, who spotted and nurtured Wainwright’s artistic talents, that Albert’s father allowed him to leave the engineering apprenticeship that he hated and attend Leeds School of Art in 1914.

Whilst at Leeds School of Art, Wainwright drew on a wide range of influences including the work of Aubrey Beardsley and Léon Bakst together with the brave new wave of European art created by the Viennese Secessionist art group. The work of Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt captivated and inspired the young Wainwright who was drawn to their exaggerated forms, fluid use of line and dynamic use of colour and pattern within the works.

After serving in the Royal Flying Corps Wainwright left military service to re-join his family who now lived near Pontefract. Here he transformed a room of the family home in to a studio where he could continue his work as an artist and designer. Around this time he began to attend Saturday morning pottery painting sessions at the local Grammar School with Miss Gostick, his former art teacher, along with his sisters Hilda and Maud. At the same classes was the great sculptor Henry Moore, also a former pupil of Miss Gostick’s. Moore was at this time a close personal friend of Wainwright’s exchanging many beautifully illustrated letters to each other over their time in service during WW1 however for some unknown reason their friendship abruptly ended around 1920.

In 1920 Wainwright received his first one-man exhibition at Leeds City Art Gallery aged just 22. The show was very well received and drew the attention and support of Sir Michael Sadler, Vice Chancellor of Leeds University and notable art collector, and Frank Rutter, the influential art critic and curator. It also led to Wainwright being represented by the Goupil Gallery in London where they held solo shows of his work in 1921 and 1922. His art nouveau-inspired watercolours received great praise in the Sunday Times who lauded his ‘great ability in decorative design’.

In 1927 Wainwright was made temporary art master at Castleford School for two years when Miss Gostick fell ill. It was during this time that he made his first visit to Germany on a school excursion. The visit had an overwhelming effect on him and he fell in love with the countryside and the people. It would become the first of many trips he would make between then and 1938, sometimes on his own and sometimes with his partner George Collins. These trips yielded a huge number of beautifully illustrated sketch books featuring the people and the landscape he came to love. These trips to Europe not only captured the surroundings but also the changing face of politics at this time with the rise of the fascist movement in Germany.

Wainwright also filled countless sketchbooks with views much closer to home featuring everything from the rolling landscapes or industrial towns of his home county, Yorkshire. In 1930 the family bought a cottage at Robin Hood’s Bay where he spent every summer painting watercolour portraits of holidaymakers, scenes of the beach and the town’s red roof tops.

Wainwright received many commissions to design the sets and costumes for local theatres including the Leeds Civic Playhouse and the Leeds Art Theatre, for plays ranging from Greek tragedy and restoration comedy, to the modern dramas of Ibsen, Chekov and Shaw. These would eventually amount to more than 100 productions, the most ambitious of these was the Miracle Play held at Kirkstall Abbey in 1927 for which he designed over 700 costumes.

Wainwright often refers to his sexual identity as a gay man in his work and his sketchbooks are filled with drawings of not only endless landscape views and women but many beautifully observed drawings of androgynous men or men in uniforms at rest or play. These sketchbooks were not intended for public view but are a remarkable and rare document of gay love in the 1920s and 30s.

Despite having grown a moderate reputation for himself in Yorkshire, Wainwright never achieved the same level of commercial success or recognition as his school-friend Henry Moore and had to supplement his art-making with teaching. In March 1943 he applied for and was offered a post as art teacher at Bridlington School for the duration of the war. He had been with the school for only 3 months when he was suddenly taken ill with meningitis and died on a bus on his way home to Harrogate in September 1943.

While Wainwright only lived to the relatively young age of 45, he left a prolific body of work including thousands of watercolours, drawings, painted ceramics, costume and theatre designs and book illustrations, which reveal him to be an artist of powerful inventiveness and ability. Over recent years there has been an ever-growing awareness and appreciation of his work with auction prices rising steadily and his work featuring in publications, online blogs and one man shows. While he left a huge body of work behind they don’t come up for sale that often but keep an eye out as they have a long way to go!

Visit our Art department page here and our 20th Century Design department page here.


Posted on 7 January 2020 in: What's new

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