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Euston Road School (act. 1937–1939), artists, was the staff and former students of the School of Drawing and Painting, which opened on 4 October 1937 at 12 Fitzroy Street, London, under the direction of , , and , and which moved its premises to 314/316 Euston Road in February 1938. The terms ‘Euston Road group’ and ‘Euston school’ first appeared in print in a review, ‘Present and future’, by Clive Bell (1881–1964), in the New Statesman and Nation (5 November 1938), with reference to the aforementioned painters together with and . Although Bell did not officially teach at the school he was closely involved in its theoretical basis. Gowing, who greatly admired Bell's intellect, was an outstanding student who in his later career described himself as ‘pupil of William Coldstream’. What all these painters had in common was a certain probity of approach towards representational painting; technically it involved measuring proportional relationships of distances (to a greater or lesser degree), an acute eye for subtle tonal and colour relationships, and a restrained but highly sensitive touch with the brush. They shared a desire to make their realist art accessible to ‘the man in the street’; this last characteristic had strong socialist overtones, promoted most by Bell and to a lesser degree by the others.

In April 1938 Bell and Coldstream spent three weeks in Bolton, Lancashire, staying in a working-class boarding-house and painting cityscapes with smoky factory chimneys as part of a scheme devised by Tom Harrisson (1911–1976), for his Mass-Observation experiment, to see how Boltonians would respond to paintings of their city in several different styles. Ironically Bell's and Coldstream's two realistic views of Bolton (Coldstream's now in the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa) were not particularly popular with the people surveyed. In November 1938 an exhibition, ‘Fifteen paintings of London’, was held at the Storran Gallery, which included the Euston-Roaders. Wishing to draw in a random cross-section of the ordinary public, the organizers sent out private view cards to everyone named Brown (some allege that it was Green) in the Post Office directory. In retrospect four of the most memorable paintings there were Coldstream's St Pancras Station (priv. coll.), Pasmore's The Flower Barrow (Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide), Rogers's Regent's Park (Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle), and Gowing's Mare Street, Hackney (Shrewsbury Technical College, Shropshire). Comparable to these is Bell's The café (Manchester City Galleries), showing members of the group at a breakfast counter, which was first exhibited with the down-to-earth title Forty-Four Goodge Street.

The Euston Road School became known for its teaching of objective observation. But this was not done in a narrow or doctrinaire manner, as their prospectus makes clear:
The direct contact and exchange of ideas between artists and students is important and is an advantage which hitherto students have been able to enjoy only through private acquaintanceship. In teaching, particular emphasis will be laid on training the observation, since this is the faculty most open to training. No attempt, however, will be made to impose a style and students will be left with the maximum freedom of expression.
Visiting teachers included Vanessa Bell (1879–1961) and Duncan Grant (1885–1978), two older Bloomsbury painters whose English version of post-impressionism, congenial as it no doubt seemed to some students, had little in common with the dynamics of the younger principals. The atmosphere was casual but not undisciplined. The difference in personalities of the teachers was remarkable: Rogers large and ebullient, very practical in his advice and adept at demonstration; Pasmore very friendly but engrossed in his own work, breaking off every now and then to boom out gnomic pronouncements; and Coldstream, the least visible, dashing in and out between commissioned portrait sittings and other urgent affairs but, as the most rigorous of them all in his methodology, exercising an enormous influence over his admirers. One of these was B. A. R. (Sam) Carter (b. 1909), who later taught with Coldstream at the Slade School of Fine Art for many years, and who was to write an authoritative article on the history of perspective for The Oxford Companion to Art (1970). What gave the school a special social kudos, however, was probably its Bloomsbury ambience and literary connections. Both Adrian Stokes (1902–1972), the writer and critic whose book Colour and Form was published in 1937, and the poet Stephen Spender (1909–1995) regularly attended the life classes. An apocryphal story is that one day Spender came in and announced to Bell (who was then barely surviving on a meagre income as a journalist), ‘this morning I decided to give up poetry and become a painter’. ‘Well now isn't that interesting’, snapped Bell, ‘because this morning I decided to give up painting and become a poet!’

With the outbreak of the Second World War, in September 1939, the Euston Road School closed its doors and the principals dispersed. During the months known as the phoney war Bell and Rogers retreated to paint and grow vegetables at Rodwell House in Suffolk, which was owned by Helen Anrep (1885–1965), who had befriended and encouraged the young painters ever since she lived at Gordon Square with Roger Fry (1866–1934). Coldstream and Pasmore remained in London, in adjacent studios in Fitzroy Street, and early in 1940 ran a one-day-a-week rump life class with half a dozen students. A small wartime exhibition, ‘Members of the Euston Road group’—organized by the Contemporary Art Society at the behest of Sir Kenneth Clark (1903–1983)—was held at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, in 1942, when most of the members were in the armed forces (Bell was killed in training in 1943). Coldstream became a war artist, painting portraits of Indian army regular soldiers at a transit camp in Egypt in 1943–4; Havildar Ajmer Singh (Man in a Yellow Turban), in the Tate collection, London, is an outstanding example. He also painted some pure, Corot-like landscapes of war zones during the Italian campaign of 1944–5. Pasmore meanwhile developed a new discipline in his painting after his release from imprisonment as a conscientious objector. He produced a series of paintings of the River Thames at Hammersmith in which the drawing and design became, in stages, increasingly formalized; he regarded this as a logical development from the objective approach of the Euston Road painters. His ‘last and final Euston School painting’ (his words) was The Studio of Ingres (1945–7; ex. Sothebys, 18 June 1997), in which the pose of his nude female model is a tribute to Ingres, although she is freshly observed from life (MS Pasmore, priv. coll.). Thereafter he changed direction completely—while holding it to be a logical move—to abstract art, and pursued this for the rest of a distinguished career.

In 1945 Pasmore, teaching painting at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts, persuaded the principal to employ Coldstream, Rogers, and Gowing as well; a new post-Euston Road dialogue continued there for three or four years. Two more group exhibitions were held: ‘The Euston Road School and others’ (May 1948; Wakefield Art Gallery, Yorkshire), organized by the painter William Townsend (1909–1973), which included several much younger artists; and a more historical one that was toured by the Arts Council during 1948 and 1949. That was the last time that the term Euston Road School was used officially. By then the principals had all gone their separate ways, Coldstream taking some of the best students with him to the Slade School, but leaving behind at Camberwell a strong tradition of training in representational painting that continued there for many years.

Bruce Laughton

Sources  

B. Laughton, The Euston Road School (1986) · A. Bowness and L. Lambertini, Victor Pasmore, 1 (1980) [includes text by the artist] · The paintings of William Coldstream, 1908–1987 (1990) [exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London, 1990] · b. cert. [Edwin John Victor Pasmore] · m. cert. [Wendy Blood] · WW · personal knowledge (2004) · The Times (26 Jan 1998)

Archives  

Tate collection · Tate collection, corresp., journals, and MSS [Sir William Menzies Coldstream] |  Tate collection, album of Christmas cards [Pasmore, Victor] · Tate collection, corresp. [Gowing, Lawrence] · Tate collection, corresp. and MSS [Bell, Graham] [photocopies] · Tate collection, corresp. with Lord Clark [Bell, Graham] · Tate collection, corresp. with Lord Clark [Coldstream, William] · Tate collection, corresp. with Lord Clark [Gowing, Lawrence] · Tate collection, corresp. with Lord Clark [Pasmore, Victor] · Tate collection, letters to Sir William Coldstream [Pasmore, Victor] · Tate collection, letters to C. G. H. Dicker [Coldstream, William] · U. Birm. L., corresp. with Lord Avon [Coldstream, William] · UCL, corresp. relating to Arts Council [Coldstream, William] · UCL, The Townsend Journals

 

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Likenesses  

photograph, c.1938, Tate collection, Tate Gallery archive, Claude Rogers papers; repro. in Laughton, Euston Road School, 171 · photograph, c.1939, repro. in Paintings of William Coldstream, 110