Frederic Leighton's Studio by Bedford Lemere, 1 April 1895. ©Historic England Archive Image Courtesy of Leighton House Museum

Book review | Studio Lives. Architect, Art and Artist in 20th-Century Britain, by Louise Campbell

Cicely Robinson, 08.06.2020
Cicely Robinson on a book that explores the evolution of studio-houses used by British artists between 1900 and 1940
The second half of the 19th century saw the rise of the grand, purpose-built artist’s studio. These large and richly furnished studio-homes stood as a bastion of the art and aesthetic ideals of their occupants.

With the likes of Frederic Leighton and George Frederic Watts living in South Kensington, Dante Gabriel Rossetti in Chelsea and Lawrence Alma-Tadema residing in St John’s Wood, these substantial (often London-based) studios also occupied serious real estate. As such, they stood as an architectural testament to the associated economic and social status of the artistic profession.

In this insightful study, Louise Campbell explores the afterlives of this Victorian legacy. The book examines the evolution of the artist’s studio and studio-house from the late-19th century through to the second world war, and features a substantial range of case studies, from the artists Augustus John and William Orpen to Barbara Hepworth and Dora Gordine,

In some cases, this afterlife is quite literal, with studios being acquired and repurposed by subsequent generations: as Campbell explores, the sculptor William Reid Dick took on the colossal home and studio of his Victorian predecessor, sculptor Alfred Gilbert, while Gluck acquired the Lamorna-based studio of fellow woman-artist Laura Knight. 

Campbell also examines the development of new purpose-built studios that were designed to suit the specific needs, interests and artistic practices of its occupants.
As the subtitle suggests, rather than look at the art, architecture or artist in isolation, this new volume adopts a cohesive and nuanced approach. whether an act of renovation, redesign or brand-new construction, these studio projects were often underpinned by a complex relationship between artist and architect – one that can often be understood as highly collaborative and mutually influential.

In an exploration of architecture, design and decoration, Campbell traces fundamental shifts in the function of the studio and explores how this was driven by the changing economic and aesthetic interests of its inhabitants. William Orpen’s “swagger studio” housed his lucrative portrait practice, which continued to boom in the interwar years. 

Defined by its pared-back aesthetic, bright light and elegant furniture, both the architecture and aesthetics of this space were designed to make clients feel at ease.
Campbell considers the studio practice of a new generation of artists who, having had less time to establish themselves before the war, were in a different position – both in artistic and financial terms – in an increasingly volatile, postwar art market. She gives numerous examples of artists settling outside London, with stained-glass artist Henry Payne relocating to St Loe’s in Gloucestershire and modernist painter Alastair Morton finding sanctuary in the Pennines. In stark contrast to the commercial hub that Orpen ran at his Kensington-based “Oriel” studio, artists Winifred and Ben Nicholson sought out a simple, rural retreat in a Cumbrian Farmhouse.

Finally, Campbell looks at the construction of the artist-studio in the 1930s, exploring how artist-clients continued to challenge and disrupt the apparent autonomy of the modernist architect – an act of collaboration that embraced not just the relationship between art practice and interior space but one that looked to the wider external landscape within which these studios were set.

The publication spans a range of architectural movements, from the arts and crafts to modernism, and is illustrated with an insightful assortment of architectural designs and archival photographs. Alongside Campbell’s rigorous evaluation of these intriguing sites of artistic activity, the careful selection of studio photography provides readers with a satisfying array of enviable interiors.

Cicely Robinson is the Brice chief curator at the Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village, Guildford

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