Richard on Art and Painting

Quotes from Richard on art and on the process of painting

Early inspiration - Cotman’s 'The Baggage Wagon'

The very first book on art ever given [to me] was on watercolour painting and oddly enough Cotman’s 'The Baggage Wagon' was included in the black and white reproductions. Although Cotman resorted to all sorts of tricks to obtain the modeling of trees in watercolour I felt that the general richness  of this work could only be executed in oil. The subject appealed to me.

My family had just moved from town to country where roads suddenly dipped into valleys, and what lay around the next corner always kept one guessing. And I was susceptible to the romantic elements in the composition...

During the Summer I set to work in our garden painting (on what was then considered quite a large canvas) an old oak tree with a path leading under it to the right – I even tried putting in a parapet!

1921, from writings found in the RE archive.

Read the full text and view the two paintings    


Making an empty canvas live

When I looked at the enormous output of [Christopher Woods's] short life, many pictures of the sea and ships, I realised how vital it is to paint what you love, regardless of fashion. That is no self-indulgence. The struggle is great, but as one becomes old, it is a struggle to simplify, not in an impressionistic way, but to find those tensions which can make an apparentltly empty canvas live.


Preface to the catalogue for Richard Eurich, RA - A Retrospective Exhibition 1979

Read the full text


Drawing for paintings

. . . One’s drawing became increasingly shorthand I should say, as one would know from the memory of what one had put down as almost a little shorthand note what the whole thing implied. A lot of my drawing can only be deciphered really by myself. I mean they’d be a tremendous help to me even if I’d done them two or three years beforehand. Very often these little shorthand notes bring back the memory of what I’d been drawing so vividly that the whole thing is there to me, which a very detailed account probably would have smothered.

IWM interview 1978



. . . it is said that Ruskin told Turner that he was going to Italy or somewhere or other to study skies. And Turner said ‘Well, there’s no need to go there. You’ll see everything you want in the Thames estuary.’ which I think is extremely true.

IWM interview 1978


Do you need many colours?

. . . Well, you don’t. Black is a most extraordinary colour as it can be used as a grey and almost as a blue. And it just depends what you put next to it. Using cobalt blue and cerulean blue and black and of course the white, touches of even a little yellow ochre, a little light red or something of that sort is all that is necessary. You find the changes you can ring on those few colours in a quite complicated sky, is quite extraordinary.

IWM interview 1978


Slow worker

. . . I was always rather a slow worker, that’s why I try to keep at it very hard.

IWM interview 1978


Abstract paintings

. . . They seem to think in the atomic age everyone must do abstract work! But what reasoning there is behind this I don’t know. It seems to me to be a shelter for the incompetent and shallow-minded.

March 1948, after criticism of his 1948 Redfern show that his pictures were 'a throwback to Victorianism'


. . . There was a great change to abstract painting which interested me to a certain extent but not for myself. I mean I like abstract paintings but there seemed to be such an enormous amount of them that might have been done by almost anybody and it spread right around the world. Everything got rather the same. I felt that I’d rather stick to what I wanted to do, which might be unfashionable, and oddly enough things do go round in a complete circle.
From the IWM interview talking about his gallery, the Redfern, increasingly concentrating on the market for abstract work


Seeing your work in an exhibition

. . . I am still convinced when I walk into a gallery in which a picture of mine is hanging that I will spot it at once but I am always disillusioned, it never happens that way. So then one begins to negligently stroll around looking at the other paintings in an offhand way until you are suddenly confronted with a miserable work, which bears some resemblance to the one which you thought, after much hard work, was one of the better efforts. But here it looks half its size, it is flattened out by the devastating light, and almost everything that can be wrong with a picture is about as wrong as it can be. But the other paintings look all right, so what is the matter?

"As the Twig is Bent" memoir, chapter 26


The need for two or three friends who understand and encourage your work

There is a popular belief that painters, when they have painted a picture are possessed only by a strong desire to show it to somebody, or better still exhibit it publicly.

My belief is that nothing is further from the truth.

Once a painting is finished, that is the end of it apart from the fact that if the artist wants to live and to paint other pictures, he has to sell it. So he exhibits it and once he has learned the awful consequences of going to an exhibition where the work is hanging, he wisely keeps away. Sometimes there is a painting which is so much part of the artist, so much a slice out of his life, that when he first allows some intimate friend to see it and look at it, the natural inclination is to leave him alone with it, or even get someone else to introduce the work.  It is possible to be more detached when the next problem is well on the way.

But an artist is indeed fortunate if he has two or three friends who understand and encourage his work. Constable had one, Turner perhaps two. They were not critics or connoisseurs, but those despised people who, in the popular phrase ‘knew what they liked.’ It is quite possible that if Archdeacon Fisher had not been the man ‘who knew a good thing when he saw it’, that many of Constable’s masterpieces would not have come into existence.

"As the Twig is Bent" memoir, chapter 26


Teaching and student gimmicks

. . . I find art teaching less and less enthralling these days! The RA students have put up their annual show and it is not very good. I feel quite a lot of students have come up against a stone wall and don’t know quite what to do. All their gimmicks are getting somewhat tiresome. I notice some have discovered painters like Paul Nash and are somewhat astonished at an originality which they believed only 'American-inspired’ art possessed.

Letter to daughter Philippa, 26 October 1967

See letter from Paul Nash to Richard about the RA



. . . Are you doing any drawing? Please don’t let it go, it is so important and gives such pleasure to you and others. I wish I had realised this at an earlier date. Drawing used to be thought of so self-consciously and the skill displayed was thought to be the hallmark of a so-called ‘draughtsman’. ‘Is he a good draughtsman?’ they used to say, and one envisaged portfolios full of clean and skilful but utterly meaningless drawings, bits of nudes etc. How different is something seen with wonder and delight and put down, perhaps clumsily, but for that reason taking on a vitality and a sense of being firsthand.

Ted Hughes the poet was saying somewhere the other day about writing poetry. ‘The minute you think (flinch?) and take your mind off this thing you’re turning into words, and begin to look at the words and worry about them, then your worry goes into them and they set about killing each other. So keep going as long as you can and then look back and see what you have written. After a bit of practice, and after telling yourself a few times that you don’t care how other people have written about this thing, this is the way you find it.'

Letter to daughter Philippa, 27 October 1967



I have done a lot of new framing and reconstructing some of the old ones. I feel I am beginning to see what suits my very delicate recent paintings which an ordinary heavy moulded frame just kills. It is the surface of paint that matters, and forcing the surface back in a frame contradicts the intention of the painting. It has taken me a long time to learn this.

Letter to daughter Philippa, 27 November 1967


Choosing to paint the sea after the success of his drawings show at the Goupil in 1929

At this period sea paintings were very much frowned upon. It was not the done thing. If one went round the exhibitions one found that still lives of aspidistras and guitars and things of that sort were the OK’d subjects.


Choosing to continue to paint the sea in the 1960s

. . . at one time I began to wonder if it was true to think that the sea was a very limited subject for painting, with its horizon etc. . . . I am sure now that it isn’t, any more than a face is.

Letter to daughter Philippa, 29 January 1969


Listening to Beethoven’s 5th on records

I wish painting could come up to music. Wish I could paint a 5th Symphony.

Diary, 8 February 1925 when at the Slade