Cyril Mann 1911-1980

Piano Nobile has looked after the estate of Cyril Mann for two decades. His influential  figurative paintings are admired today and he is represented in public and private collections worldwide, including the British Museum and National Portrait Gallery, London. His achievements are celebrated on the first ever plaque on a Council block in England, located in Bevin Court, Islington, where he lived and completed many of his finest paintings and sculptures.  

 

In an art career that spanned half a century, three different phases in Mann's paintings are evident, all interlinked with the effects of light and shadow.

 

Born in London before World War I, Mann grew up in Nottingham, winning a scholarship to the Nottingham School of Art at the age of twelve, the youngest ever recipient. Leaving Nottingham for Canada in 1926, he met Arthur Lismer, a Sheffield-born member of the famous Canadian Group of Seven, who advised him to  return and continue his art education in London. After studying at the Royal Academy from 1933 until 1937, he moved to Paris, continuining his training under Scottish Colourist, J D Ferguson until the outbreak of World War II.

 

 

Phase 1: the early Paris and London paintings

 First in pre-war Paris and continuing after the war in London, Mann painted street scenes and buildings, silhouetted against the sun.  Shown at Wildenstein's, the leading Bond Street gallery, many of these sombre works with their dazzling light effects depict the city's extensive bomb damage. Today, these are among Mann's most prized paintings for their historical importance and originality of vision. 

 

 

Phase 2: the "Solid Shadow"

In the early 1950s, Mann worked in a council flat with barred windows without natural daylight, a terrible environment for a painter of sunlight. For three years, the artist was forced to paint in electric light. Against all odds, this provided new inspiration, leading Mann to his second phase, known as "the solid shadow".

 

He observed that electric light cast veil-shaped shadows, which he explored in often small, analytical still life paintings and self portraits.  Use of strong line, flat tonal surfaces and heightened colour anticipate works by later Pop artists, including Andy Warhol and Patrick Caulfield.

 

The beauty and originality of Mann's solid-shadow pictures caught the eye of Erica Brausen, legendary owner of the Hanover Gallery, who discovered, among others, Francis Bacon. Brausen included Mann's paintings in a mixed show, but he never produced enough work for a one-man exhibition. The second phase ended when he moved into Bevin Court and had access to daylight again.

 

 

Phase 3: the movement of light

 His move to Bevin Court in 1956 led to the emotional masterpieces of his later and final years. In 1960 he was joined in the tiny council flat by his Dutch-Indonesian second wife, Renske, who was 28 years his junior and became his model and muse.

 

Flooded with light, the council flat inspired the artist to explore the dynamic effects of sunlight and shadow in a different way from light-inspired predecessors such asJ M W Turner and the Impressionists. Mann depicted the qualities and transmutations of light itself, not lambent and diffused, but almost kinetic in its description of the forms from which it has rebounded. Light takes precedence over subject matter.

 

Following an art career spanning over half a century, Cyril Mann died on January 7, 1980, aged 68. Embittered by    lack of recognition, he had suffered long spells of illness and stays in mental hospitals.

 

On September 28, 2013, Cyril Mann became only the second artist commemorated by Islington Council in its annual People's Green Plaque scheme, decided on public vote. He follows in the footsteps of Walter Sickert, similarly honoured in a previous year.