It was 1952 when a soft-spoken Scotsman entered the Slade School of Fine Art. Accompanied by his beagle named Somerset, he attended on a part-time basis at first. Few could have missed Craigie Aitchison in those days and he was certainly noticed by another Slade student, Michael Andrews, who later recommended him to Helen Lessore, proprietor of the Beaux Arts Gallery. Aitchison was one of the most original British artists of his generation, his success underpinned by rigorous observation and a painter’s sensitivity to surface texture. The use of saturated mineral colouring in his work betrays a mixture of vision, a view of life beyond appearances, and craftsman-like skill, forging an intoxicating alchemy of yellow and cerulean, umber and viridian.
Aitchison belonged to the Beaux Arts generation, a tight-knit milieu of figurative artists that emerged after the Second World War. Along with Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff and Euan Uglow, he held his first solo exhibition at Helen Lessore’s Beaux Arts Gallery on Bruton Street – a flight-footed enterprise bringing together artists of prodigious talent from London’s leading art schools. The early careers of these five artists were launched under Lessore’s discerning gaze and close friendships were formed, even as a wild divergence of artistic styles took place. By the time of its closure in 1965, the Beaux Arts Gallery had laid foundations for the next five decades of British art.
The exhibition will show Aitchison’s work up to the mid-1990s, including a rare early butterfly painting, still lifes from the 1960s and early 1970s, and portraits and crucifixions. In a parallel space, a significant group of paintings and watercolours by Andrews will hang alongside nudes and still lifes by Uglow, and substantial early works by Auerbach and Kossoff. The accompanying fully-illustrated catalogue will include a memoir by the writer and garden historian Susan Campbell, née Benson. Campbell studied at the Slade, was friends with Aitchison, Andrews and Uglow, and experienced the Beaux Arts Gallery at first hand. The publication will present these artists’ work in a new context, throwing light on Aitchison’s part in this important creative network.
For more information and a list of available works, please contact the gallery.