Liss Llewellyn Fine Art - 20th Century British Art

Stanley Lewis (1905 - 2009)   BIOGRAPHY

Study for The Attack on the Tirpitz by the Fleet Air Arm, 1944
Framed (ref: 7274)
Signed, pen and ink and wash, 
6 3/4 x 8 1/4 in. (17 x 21 cm)


Provenance: The Artist's Family

Exhibited: WW2 - War Pictures by British Artists, Morley College London, 28 October -23 November 2016, cat 13.

Literature: The Unknown Artist: Stanley Lewis and his contemporaries, Cecil Higgins Art Gallery & Bedford Museum, 12th June - 5th September 2010. p113. WW2 - War Pictures by British Artists, Edited by Sacha Llewellyn & Paul Liss, July 2016, cat 13, page 50.

In a very few cases the WAAC  issued contracts to record crucial but otherwise undocumented military events that the artist who received the contracts had not actually seen for themselves and for which they relied instead on photographs and eyewitness accounts.  The resulting large oil paintings included reconstructions of such events as an attack on the German battleship Tirpitz by British midget submarines in 1943, portrayed by Charles Pears.  Stanley Lewis was also asked, by Lieutenant  Commander Hollis, to recreate the historic event in a painting.

The Attack on the Tirpitz, Alten Fiord , April 3rd 1944‘After seeing my Searchlight picture Lieutenant Commander Hollins of the Fleet Air Arm, Yeovilton persuaded the Colonel to allow me to go to Yeovilton to paint an historic picture for him. “We want a picture of our attack on the German Tirpitz in Alten Fiord. We have got it all laid on for you. Come with me”. And he led me through the camp to a runway where a small American communication plane was waiting. There was a pilot and a sailor standing there and they saluted the Commander. The Commander gave orders and I was flown to an aerodrome somewhere on the coast and I was taken to interview a certain Captain Evans, who had written up the official history of the Tirpitz attack. In his office there were about one hundred small photographs taken by planes that had passed over the Fiord. Only about six were of use to me in identifying the Tirpitz in the Fiord, the rest of the photographs were cloud and smoke. He read out most of his reports enabling me to make notes. Then he and one of his staff bought a large map of the Fiord and I made notes and sketches. Later I returned to Yeovilton and reported to Commander Hollins. He said “as regards the bombers and fighter we have models of those”, and then he suggested a full size bomber would land for me to study. I then went to an art shop in Yeovil and bought a canvas, paints and brushes with my own money - I was then allocated a room where I could work on the painting.’ ‘I had a model of the Tirpitz sent down to me from London and did my preliminary studies of it from the top of a ladder as the Barracuda bombers would have seen it when they attacked. Anyway, one day, Commander Hollins brought Sir Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris to see progress on the work. I couldn’t believe it was him, and he decided to sit on a stool close by, and lifted his coat tails to sit down, but my palette and paints were on it! I just managed to whip it away in time, or he’d have sat on the lot and got paint all over his backside. Never mind the sinking of the Tirpitz... I’d have sunk if that had happened!!’

Stanley Lewis, Fleet Air Arm Attack on the 'Tirpitz'

Stanley Lewis (1905 - 2009)

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.

Lewis was 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.   His first retrospective, organised by Liss Llewellyn Fine Art in 2010, took place at Cecil Higgins Art Gallery & Bedford Museum.

See all works by Stanley Lewis