Suffolk artists Lionel Bulmer and Margaret Green pop-up in Snape retrospective this weekend
PUBLISHED: 18:29 06 December 2018
Lionel Bulmer and Margaret Green were inseparable in life and now they continue to share retrospectives. Arts editor Andrew Clarke takes a look at a special exhibition being staged at Snape this weekend
History is scattered with stories of artistic couples but none is quite so remarkable and touching as that of Lionel Bulmer and Margaret Green. Art critic and historian David Boyd Haycock, author of the novel ‘Crisis of Brilliance’ which explores the talent at the Slade during the 1920s, introduces a special weekend ‘pop-up’ exhibition at Snape by London art dealers Messum’s which explores ‘this extraordinary romantic collaboration which produced a wealth of wonderful paintings, water-colours and highly accomplished drawings by both partners – art that is very much of its time and place, yet also timeless in its precision, honesty and beauty’.
Lionel Bulmer and Margaret Green met as students at the Royal College of Art in 1944 and their life and work together echoes the progress of the 20th Century. This was immediately after the Second World War, when London not the place and the time was not right to be an artist.
The prevailing atmosphere of austerity and exhaustion is obvious in Bulmer and Green’s early work: paintings and drawings of shop interiors and cafés, or parks, gardens and street corners in muted shades of green and brown which evoke the Euston Road and the broader ‘kitchensink’ realism of the mid-1950s and early 1960s.
It was Margaret who directed them to the more colourful artistic opportunities offered by the seaside. They found a run-down thatched cottage by the River Rat near Stowmarket, in West Suffolk - a wreck of a house which, in the late 1950s, cost all of £850. The transformation this landscape eventually wrought in Bulmer’s painting was particularly notable, and in the 1960s sunlight seemed to burst onto his work.
The paintings in Messum’s exhibition, dating from the 1960s until the end of Bulmer’s life, capture the English seaside at its glorious, flamboyant best. The couple’s adoration of the beach at Aldeburgh, with the two lookout towers and the tram-like tracks for hauling fishing boats up and down the shingle resonates throughout their paintings. On discovering Walberswick and Southwold, they were hooked, with the resulting flood of canvases suggesting that the two figures were fixtures on the beach and beside the harbour every summer between 1960 and 1990.
Throughout their lives, they remained fascinated by English subjects and locations. The Suffolk beaches at Walberswick and Southwold that had once inspired the great English Impressionist Philip Wilson Steer became their ‘muse’.
Paintings of Suffolk: Lionel Bulmer and Margaret Green is at The Pond Gallery, Snape Maltings, Suffolk
from December 7-9.