Wonderful exhibition of pre-WW2 paintings of Bow

The Working Artist: The East London Group exhibition is currently on at The Nunnery, 181 Bow Road, London E3 2SJ until Sun 17th Dec. 2017. This must-see show is free and conveniently open 10am – 5pm everyday. It’s near Gladstone’s statue by Bow Church.

There are over 50 paintings in the exhibition, and many are local scenes painted around 75 years ago.

High on the wall in the gallery is this quote from Albert Turpin, one of the painters:

This is what Albert Turpin was trying to achieve with his paintings.

Today people are doing just that by taking photographs. Before WW2 colour photography, other than making colour slides, was practically impossible. Even into the 1970s colour prints faded like crazy if hung on a wall. Turpin’s best option was to paint, and painting is very expressive.

Albert Turpin was born in 1900 in Ravenscroft Buildings off Columbia Road. At the age of 15 he walked into Shoreditch Town Hall Recruiting Station, told them he was 19, and went off to fight in the First World War. He led quite an eventful life, as I’m reading in a book I bought in the gallery. Eventually he settled on being a window cleaner as it enabled him to sometimes paint in the afternoon. He joined the Labour Party in 1926 and became an activist for workers’ rights and an anti-fascist. He later became a local councillor, and Mayor of Bethnal Green in 1946.

In the middle of my photo you can see a 1936 Blackshirt Fascist poster attacking Turpin.

The East London Group of artists were nationally well-known in their day, exhibiting in the West End and around the country. Their first big exhibition was under the name of the East London Art Club at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1928. This led to some of the painters work being shown at what was then known as The National Gallery, Millbank – now the Tate. When I went last Saturday both the gallery and cafe next door were deservedly packed. This is a great show – you can read more here.

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