Sybil Andrews and Gwenda Morgan: A Tale of Two Artists

 

Sybil Andrews, Fall of the Leaf (1934), linocut on paper. Gift of George and Lola Kidd, © Glenbow Museum, Calgary, 2009

What drives two artists — both printmakers, trained at the same school, at the same time — to develop vastly divergent work? Is it their interests, their personalities, their influences, or something else entirely? Answering these questions may very well be impossible, but attempting to do so can yield some interesting results.

A case in point is the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (AGGV) exhibition A Study in Contrast: Sybil Andrews and Gwenda Morgan, which features more than 60 works examining how two artists, both educated at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art in London, England, went on to develop very different styles of printmaking. While urban life, industry and the Futurist and Cubist art movements seduced Andrews, Morgan was drawn to engraving neo-Romantic views of the Sussex countryside, a place she lived all her life.

“They were both connected to the Grosvenor School in its early stages,” says Michelle Jacques, Chief Curator at the AGGV. “This exhibition really parses out what students would have been taught at that school, and will include works — some from the National Gallery of Canada collection — by artists who taught at the Grosvenor School, as well as many examples of works used as teaching tools.”

Sybil Andrews was born in England in 1898. During her time at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art, it was one of the few British schools to expose students to avant-garde European art. After graduation, Andrews began working at the school as a secretary. She also produced meticulous linocuts, exhibiting with other Grosvenor School artists at London’s Redfern Gallery and abroad. Her work was featured in the large group exhibition, Exhibition of Modern Colour Prints, organized by the Redfern Gallery, which travelled internationally and was exhibited at the National Gallery of Canada in 1935. In 1947, Andrews immigrated to British Columbia, where she settled in Campbell River on Vancouver Island, maintaining her art practice while also teaching art.

“People feel close to Sybil Andrews here,” says Jon Tupper, Director of the AGGV. “She was a fairly successful Canadian artist, somewhat overlooked, and I think this exhibition gives us a unique opportunity to look at her in the context of her early years in London — especially her time at the Grosvenor School and her relationship Morgan, who would have been a colleague at the time. It will help show the remarkable contrast between the two, and their different approaches to printmaking.”

 

Gwenda Morgan, Downland Farm (1949), wood engraving on paper. Gift of the Artist

Born in 1908, Gwenda Morgan studied at the Grosvenor School under Ian Macnab, whose work is also featured in the exhibition. Early on, she developed an interest in wood engraving: a technique she would continue to pursue throughout her artistic career. During the Second World War, she served in the Women’s Land Army in a variety of jobs, returning to wood engraving after the war. During her lifetime, her work was exhibited at the Royal Academy, the Redfern Gallery and the Royal Society of Painters-Printmakers, along with a number of posthumous retrospectives. She was ultimately best-known, however, for the wood engravings she produced to illustrate books of fairytales and poetry.

To help people better understand both Andrews and Morgan, the exhibition has included a number of works by other artists — three of which come from the National Gallery of Canada collection. Iain Macnab, founding principal of the Grosvenor School, is represented in the exhibition with The Game of Cards (1936). Artist Eric Ravilious is featured as well with the wood engraving, Lullington Church (1925).

“Ravilious was selected particularly because of Gwenda’s interest in him,” says Jacques. “Even though both women were connected to the Grosvenor School, Sybil Andrews’ work was much more inspired by Futurism, with very angular forms and imagery, whereas Gwenda tended to stay more in realm of the romantic or picturesque. Ravilious was similarly picturesque, and chose subject matter from the English countryside — which was what Gwenda looked to for inspiration throughout her career.”

 

Eric Ravilious, Lullington Church (1925), wood engraving on laid japan paper, 11.4 x 12.8 cm. NGC

The third work from the National Gallery in the exhibition is the C.R.W. Nevinson lithograph, Acetylene Welder (1917), which was gifted to Canada by London’s Imperial War Museum in 1919. “The Nevinson was more connected to Andrews,” says Jacques. “It’s an example of the kind of Futurist imagery and war-related subjects that influenced Sybil Andrews, and of the industrial aspects of Modernism that she liked.”

Works from artists other than Andrews and Morgan, says Jacques, were added largely based on “what we have been able to gather from their words, letters, writings, and by figuring out who would have been most influential on their own practices.”

Jacques adds that exhibitions of works by Sybil Andrews are always popular on Vancouver Island, where her former home has become a tourist destination. In addition to showcasing a favourite “local” artist, the exhibition explores the work of two women artists who, although subject to the same teachers and artistic influences, went on to create vastly different bodies of work.

“Andrews and Morgan worked in ways that are highly accessible to visitors. For those interested in art history, there are also enough interesting references to art of the early 20th century that people will take away a lot from the show,” says Tupper.

A Study in Contrast: Sybil Andrews and Gwenda Morgan is on view at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria in Victoria, British Columbia, from January 17 to April 12, 2015. For more information, please click here.

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