Liss Llewellyn Fine Art - 20th Century British Art

Stanley Lewis (1905 - 2009)   BIOGRAPHY

Allegory, c. 1929
Framed (ref: 1420)
Oil on canvas,
50 x 93 in. (127 x 236 cm.)


Literature: The Unknown Artist: Stanley Lewis and his contemporaries, Cecil Higgins Art Gallery & Bedford Museum, 12th June - 5th September 2010, Liss Fine Art, 2010.

Provenance: the artist's own collection.

Exhibited: Imperial Gallery of Art, Imperial Institute South Kensington, Exhibition of Works Submitted in the Competitions for the Rome Scholarships of 1930 in Mural Painting, Sculpture & Engraving, January-February 1930.  The Unknown Artist: Stanley Lewis and his contemporaries, Cecil Higgins Art Gallery & Bedford Museum, 12th June - 5th September

The Rome scholarship was the highest possible award and the most coveted prize among art students.   Stanley missed winning the 1930 Rome Scholarship in Mural Painting by a  single vote.

The theme of my painting Allegory is a celebration of simple country life and animals big and small.   I was bought up on a big farm called Whitehall Farm six miles from the city of Newport in Monmouthshire.    As a toddler I was fascinated with all the animals and the goings on, that made up life on a farm in those far off years. The huge horses, shires, the bullocks and cows and the sheep, chickens, ducks, turkeys, pigs, dogs etc and especially the farm workers. My father loved horses and banned horse whips from the farm.

Stanley started the studies for this picture at home, where he found many of the models - the cowherd with the stick, the reclining figure, (Stanley’s mother), the young woman third from right (Margaret, his sister, born in 1902), and the central figure holding the baby (his cousin Edith).  

Stanley took the cartoon to London to complete the oil in the large studios of the RCA. He stayed with his Aunt, Sally Taylor, herself an accomplished painter, in Westgate Terrace, Kensington. Here he found the model for the central figure –a road sweeper who happened to be passing. “I looked out of window saw tall man cleaning street so I got him to pose for a few minutes just so I could get the hang of it.” Other London models followed: Girl with apple cousin Joan, daughter of Aunt Sally. Far right Mrs Cursley – great character; friend of Stanley’s Aunt Sally; lady in waiting to Queen Mary. Seated figure back to viewer: Madame Paul of RA – posed all morning and all afternoon but never naked.

In the background, Granary Farm which was adjacent to Whitehall Farm, can be seen.  This "....beautifully built farm and the foreground with the pigsty, barns, yard, cowsheds, and the house in the middle..." was the subject of a later painting by Stanley (see cat. no.   ).

A review of the finalists (undated newspaper clipping) was critical of the fact that "…..there is now some danger of competitors cultivating a Rome Scholarship style, to please the assessors. That the British School at Rome should stand for the classical tradition in art is natural and proper, but classical principles ought not to be confused with classical reminiscences. Take away the reflections of Piero della Francesca and Michelangelo from some of the designs, and there is not very much left.” The review goes on to praise the work of the winner, Marjorie Brooks as being “refreshingly free from the Rome Scholarship manner….”. Of Lewis’s entry the commentator is more critical: “Her nearest competitor is Mr. Stanley C. Lewis, of the Royal College of Art, but his field workers are much more conscious of Rome than of their legitimate business…..”.

This criticism is ironic given that Stanley Lewis was steeped in the traditions of farming, a love of the land and a deep rooted knowledge of the realities of farm labour. Perhaps his wanted simply to elevate the subject – the daily routine he loved so much. Perhaps he also was too conscious of Monnington, his teacher and mentor, who had won the Rome Scholarship of 1922 with his painting Winter, a composition that must, in part, have been the inspiration for Stanleys Allegory:” Yes, I think I thought a lot about Monnington at that period.” Puvis de Chavannes was also at the back of Stanley’s mind: Puvis had an enormous sense of space In a more general sense their was also the influence of Piero della Francesca and the Quattrocento.   But asked who influenced this work replied: no one. Just wonderful composition. Geometry. Triangles. Underneath that picture its all geometry. The first thing a picture must have is a basis of geometry. Underneath any picture of nature is geometry in my estimation.

Sample of framing:

Stanley Lewis (1905 - 2009)

Painter, teacher and museum curator, born in Cardiff. He attended Newport College of Art, 1923-6, and the Royal College of Art, 1926-30, teaching at Newport College in the 193os. After war service he became principal of Carmarthen School of Art for 22 years from 1946, then retired and with his wife founded the Pram and Toy Museum at Beckington, Somerset. He illustrated newspaper articles by his wife Min Lewis and her book Laugharne and Dylan Thomas, in 1967, and had one-man shows at various Laugharne Festivals. Showed for many years with Gwent Art Society, SWG and elsewhere and with Michael Ayrton and Enzo Plazzotta shared a three-man show at Bruton Gallery, Somerset. Newport Museum and Art Gallery holds his work. Lewis' show War Images there in 2003 was based on a large unfinished World War II painting and preparatory draw¬ings which the artist donated to the collection. Stanley Lewis (1905-2009) was reluctant to sell his art during his life-time. He kept all his major works. He later gave some to museums. He turned down offers from galleries, preferring to work without constraints, choosing to earn a much needed regular income through teaching (over 10 years at Newport School of Art and 22 years as Principal of Carmarthen School of Art). Stanley’s art has period charm. It occupies a backwater (rather than the mainstream) of British Art - this is the unmapped territory that art historians will increasingly look at as accounts of 20th Century British Art are revised. His work is highly distinctive and he remained faithful throughout his life to a graphic and stylised manner developed early on in his career. Perhaps the most enduring aspect of his legacy is the remarkable cycle of paintings exhibited at the Royal Academy celebrating Welsh subjects: The Welsh Dress, The Welsh Mole Catcher, The Welsh Farmer, and The Welsh Dresser. There is arguably no other series of genre paintings in British Art which capture so evocatively Welsh identity. Stanley also strongly identified with the land: on the one hand his calling to art was a vocation; on the other his approach was disarmingly unpretentious: ‘I must admit instinct has kept me on the straight-and-narrow path to carry on working my art into what I am: I am a farmer’s son and I have never craved to be in any one else’s shoes.’ Stanley produced little in the way of major paintings during the last decades of the 20th century, though he did continue to draw, (often reworking earlier drawings), and increasingly put his energy into producing and publishing his book illustrations. In his 101st year, in 2006, Stanley published a last edition of drawings under the title: Adventures in Animal Town, using computer software (Photoshop) to add colour to the remarkable images which half a decade earlier, in black and white, had graced the pages of the South Wales Evening Post. (Fig. 2) Stanley first contacted Liss Fine Art (by email!), aged 101, wanting to know what had happened to his former mentors Thomas Monnington and A.K. Lawrence. Stanley’s career spanned a large part of the 20th century. Yet the fruit of his labour was never publicly exhibited. This is the first ever exhibition of his work. Stanley put his longevity down to cigars, whisky and Michelangelo. He took great pleasure in helping prepare the notes in this catalogue. Recalling events from between 50 and 90 years ago it is remarkable how accurate his memory proved to be. It is sad that Stanley is not alive to see this exhibition. Asked, age 103, if he was finally ready for his first ever show, or whether he would like a little more time to prepare, he inhaled gently on his cigar and, with a puff of smoke and a faint chuckle, said: ‘I think I am ready’. The day before he died he asked Jenni his daughter to type up his final wishes: ‘… And when my exhibition is up and running, open a good bottle of champagne and celebrate and think of me. No doubt I will be there in spirit to keep an eye on things.’ Link to full catalogue :

See all works by Stanley Lewis