Although much of Richard Eurich’s life was spent around the Hampshire coast, his early years were in Bradford and Ilkley. He returned to Yorkshire throughout his life, drawn not merely by existing family connections, but surely by one of the most dramatic and visually rich areas of the country. Here, he would revel in the wildness of its fells and moors, paint the small fishing communities along its North Sea coast, or re-imagine the street life and festivals of his Bradford childhood.
Richard’s extraordinary recall of place and mood would mean that he could draw on and re-work many of the themes and ideas present in these Yorkshire pictures throughout his long career. There is also an evergreen quality, a candour about his painting that directly engages the viewer: you are drawn in to the meticulous details of a busy industrial scene, or by the quiet drama of a high Pennine view until you are experiencing the same fascination for each pictorial element as he has been, as if for the first time.
There, far below, is the knobbly backbone of England, the Pennine Range…for you are descending , somewhere about the middle of the range, where the high moorland thrusts itself between the woollen mills of Yorkshire and the cotton mills of Lancashire. Great winds blow over miles and miles of ling and bog…and the curlews still go crying in that empty air as they did before the Romans came…
J.B. Priestley The Good Companions (1929)
In his landscape works, Richard went far beyond more literal, topographical translations by using his prodigious memory to select what were for him the most visually charged elements of their composition: his combination of implausible viewpoints and perspectives and of heightened light and shade produced paintings of great drama and power. His subjects range from the dark sandstone and millstone grit of West Yorkshire, to the pale limestone of the Dales, capturing the county’s flat light and its drab hues, and celebrating its magnificent rock formations and wild moorland.
Richard’s bond with Yorkshire’s landscape can be dated from the moment the family left industrial Bradford for Ilkley in Wharfedale, some thirteen miles away, to better manage his mother’s tuberculosis. Aged 19, he was in his first year at Bradford School of Art & Design. A group of watercolours made in 1922, document his delight in discovering the moors around his new home, and the revelation of Turner, following a visit to see the large collection at Farnley Hall, Otley:
Turner became my hero … and I bought an old bicycle and explored Wharfedale, trying in many cases to locate the exact spot where he must have sat.
Quarries and the Bronze Age Moor
Richard responded enthusiastically to the rocks and quarries surrounding his new Ilkley home, attracted by their blocky contours, their extremes of light and shade and intrigued by their antiquity. Quarries would be a subject that he would seek out when living in other parts of the country too. Recalling winter on Ilkley moor he wrote:
The colour of the rocks above our house assumed a richness undreamt of, the oranges and greens and deep purple under brilliant white with incredible blue shadows had to be painted.
Gordale Scar and Malham Cove
Amongst many subsequent trips back to Yorkshire, a stay at Gordale in 1949 yielded drawings and notes for some fine landscapes. This magnificent canyon, hidden beneath craggy limestone cliffs where Gordale Beck gushes through a ravine, was the subject of two paintings. Richard describes the ascent up the slippery limestone…with footholds almost negligible …to the heart of Gordale Scar. When pondering how to capture Malham Cove – four miles or so from Gordale Scar, Richard’s diary again captures his meticulous approach to understanding his subject:
Spent all day wondering over the top of Malham Cove making notes of the construction and wondering how to paint it…..had the most frightening sensation of being sucked in, and retreated at once.
Richard’s fascination with the way the bony structures of Yorkshire’s drystone walls make distinctive patterns across its moors and pastures can be seen in a group of smaller scale works – subjects in their own right - made during the 1970s and ‘80s. Some show the silver grey limestone of North Yorkshire and the Dales, others the gritty sandstone of West Yorkshire and lower Wharfedale.
Sometimes one is tempted to think, on seeing some magnificent scene, that the camera is the only means of making a record to remind one of its grandeur. But this is not so as a painter. The mere act of putting a pencil to paper and looking and trying to record something seen means that one has been in real contact with nature, and viewing an old sketchbook with only the slightest of drawings in it, makes a flash back in the memory which a photographic album is powerless to do.
Though Richard did not return to the concentrated period of drawing in pencil during the late 1920s, a small body of intense, highly finished drawings was made across a range of subjects up to the late '80s. His sketches function as personal, on the spot notations, with concise written comments that act as prompts for future work.
I’ve come to feel that there is something genuinely unique about this transcendent and transgressive location: a border area where habitation meets the uninhabitable…where land disappears into sky on many days of the year; where the last lawn is separated from the moor by a dividing line of privet hedge; where roads peter out into cart-tracks and bridleways…
Magnetic Fields: Simon Armitage on the pull of Marsden. The Guardian newspaper 2022
Richard could be drawn away from Yorkshire’s beauty spots to another kind of subject of rocky outcrops, edges and escarpments that intrude themselves into the hilly Pennine towns and cities. These elements become an essential ingredient in the mix of mills, viaducts, streets and chimneys. Neither pure landscape nor true townscape, he found these places deeply romantic. Writing about Northern Town to Christies in 1985, he confided: I have done several small paintings of Bradford as I remember and dream about it. They have no topography. All those towns, Bradford, Huddersfield and Halifax are, or were superb. In fact Wyndham Lewis called Halifax the Toledo of the North. I am at a loss as to painters thinking the North unpaintable…
What was wonderful about childhood is that anything in it was a wonder. It was not merely a world full of miracles; it was a miraculous world.
G.K. Chesterton Autobiography 1936
Richard grew up with his sisters and brother in the Manningham area of north Bradford, home to a number of German and other professional families. They lived near Lister Park, with the magnificent Cartwright Hall Art Gallery & Museum at its centre. He remembered with extraordinary clarity the scents, sights and daily rituals of this Edwardian childhood in his memoir, and Lister Park is at the heart of his recollections. There, he observed the weekly performances of bands, the crowds in their Sunday best. He was fascinated in particular by the huge processions associated with May Day and Whitsuntide …which seemed to bring something oriental to dull, smoky Bradford.
These early memories began to surface in the late 1940s and form a group of very different works, to the occasional bafflement of his London gallery and the art press. Simultaneously real and dreamlike, they are peopled with characters and scenes from Richard’s Bradford who seem to watch and observe each other. They have been described as an antidote to the concentrated period of war paintings and commissions, his involvement with his own young family and perhaps by recollections stirred when writing his memoir.
Processions and Gatherings
Alongside vivid descriptions of gigantic processions on certain days of the year, he also remembered…a strange rite called the Whitsuntide walk. The walkers in singlets and shorts all looked bony, wiry little men…. There was usually a clown, possibly with a collecting box, running ahead and causing much mirth by his droll wit and capers.
This bustling seaside town held a resonant place in Richard’s imagination. He returned many times to paint its harbour and two distinctive West and East Piers, its ruined abbey, the traditional flat bottomed cobles and the sea beyond. His painting, Queen of the Sea, 1911 (1954) fixed lasting memories of the town filled with visitors celebrating the King’s coronation on a hot summer’s day.
The impact of his first family holiday at the resort was profound, discovering the magnetic pull of harbour and boats, coast and sea that would remain a constant throughout his life. Recalling the painful experience of leaving this magical place he confided:
But I for one left something there and I have gone back to try to recapture it but it just evades me. I prefer to remember it as we knew it in those carefree days.
Artists routinely say that their paintings speak for themselves, but Richard’s memoir As the Twig is Bent, his diary entries and scribbled notations have also offered rich insights into his life in Yorkshire and the subjects he chose to paint. The online Catalogue Raisonné has of course been the single most important source for developing this Curated by exhibition, bringing to my attention paintings unknown to me, together with the invaluable resource of Richard’s sketches and drawings. Other publications referred to include the exhibition catalogues, Richard Eurich RA: A Retrospective Exhibition (1979-80); The Edge of all the Land: Richard Eurich 1903-1992 (1994); Richard Eurich (1903 – 1992) Visionary Artist: (2003), and the book The Art of Richard Eurich by Andrew Lambirth (2020). Finally, my warm thanks to Philippa Bambach and Paul Carter for inviting me to curate this exhibition and for their enthusiastic and patient support.
Caroline Krzesinska 2023
Caroline Krzesinska is a freelance exhibitions curator with a background in art history. She joined Bradford Art Galleries & Museums in 1977 and curated the exhibition Richard Eurich RA: A Retrospective Exhibition in 1979. She developed a warm working relationship with Richard, and together they realised the exhibition framework and selection of works. She was also responsible for the acquisition of a number of Eurich paintings for the collection. Since leaving Bradford, she has been a creative director for Sheffield Museums Trust and managed the county wide Art in Yorkshire Supported by Tate programme and other projects for York Museums Trust and Hull City of Culture. She is currently a volunteer co-ordinator for the Research Group at Wentworth Woodhouse.
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