Helen Bradley (1900-1979)

Many of us promise ourselves that we will take up painting in retirement, few of us ever do and even fewer stick at it and only a tiny few achieve commercial and critical success with their Art. Helen Bradley was one of these tiny few and in her own uniquely British way she created a whole new life for herself with her Art when at the age of 65 she began painting pictures each one recalling a memory of her Edwardian childhood. To begin with her paintings were a way for her to show her grandchildren just how different a place the world was for her as a child in the Edwardian Era.

Born in 1900 Helen Bradley was like the late Queen Mother, the same age as the century she lived in. She was born in Lees just outside Oldham in Lancashire and showed enough early artistic talent for her to study Art but only for one year from 1913, when as for so many others the Great War intervened stopping her art studies in their tracks , then marriage and children followed.

At first glance you might think that Helen Bradley’s paintings look a little like L S Lowry’s figure compositions, however she had her own unique style and technique just as Lowry has his. Indeed the two artists met early on in Bradley’s career, they got on well and Lowry continued to encourage Bradley in her work and the two developed a firm friendship. Neither artist followed or was influenced by the other and both held a strong admiration for each other’s work.

The majority of Bradley’s figure pictures depict specific remembered events and are often accompanied by a story handwritten in biro on a parcel label and usually attached to the back of the picture. These notes explain to some extent what the viewer is looking at in the composition and the characters, Bradley sets the scene for us to share her memories and individual characters the most famous of which is Miss Carter . This excerpt from her online biography explains a little about her characters.

She mixed a little pink colour, she painted the dress of a tiny figure. From that moment was created the enchanting land that was to delight millions. The figure she painted was that of Miss Carter (who wore pink) who features in most of Helen Bradley’s paintings. Other characters you will find are her mother, grandmother, her three maiden aunts, Mr Taylor (the bank manager) Helen herself with brother George and their dogs Gyp and Barney and many others.

These narrative paintings were first exhibited at The Saddleworth Art Society in 1965, followed by a London exhibition in 1966, and a sell out exhibition at the appropriately named Carter Gallery in Los Angeles in 1968.

In 1971 Jonathan Cape published the first of four books “And Miss Carter Wore Pink”. This was an instant success. German, French, Dutch and Japanese editions were published, and a special edition produced for the U.S.A.

Requests for illustrations of her work were satisfied by the publication of 30 Signed Limited Edition Prints, 3 Unsigned Limited Edition Prints and 11 Open Edition Prints.

Magazine features, appearances on television and radio endeared Bradley to the general public and led to her being awarded the M.B.E. for services to the arts, unfortunately she died on the 19th of July 1979 shortly before she was due to receive her M.B.E. from Her Majesty The Queen.

The market for Helen Bradley’s work is very well established and her work is regularly available at auction and in galleries and I hope that this little snapshot will whet your appetite for further investigation perhaps even a purchase. To start with you could consider buying one of her beautifully illustrated books of story pictures, all are out of print but are available online or in specialist galleries for around £15 to 30, the signed limited edition prints start at around £350.

Posted in Art and Sculpture, Jonathan Horwich News, News.

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