Monday, February 12, 2007

The Wapping Group of Artists

St Pauls from Tate Modern (2.11.05.)
11" x 15" pen and ink and coloured pencil in Sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell
"The Wapping Group is the last proper artists' society left in England"
Chris Beetles

Yesterday I attended the Private View of the 61st Annual Exhibition of the Wapping Group of Artists, one of the longest established working societies of artists in the UK. The exhibition opens to the public today at the Mall Galleries and runs until 17th.

For the last 60 years, members of the Wapping Group have worked plein air to draw and paint the Thames and record the many different scenes found on the River Thames. In doing so they have developed a rich record of the changing character of the Thames during that time.

The group was formed in 1946. The aim was to meet together each week and enjoy one another's company, to paint together in companiable fellowship and encouragement........and to enjoy a pint at the pub afterwards. Essentially the spirit of the group is about painting together rather than about exhibitions - an approach which I very much applaud.

Every Wednesday between April and September they paint the Thames and its enirons. Originally they painted between Westminster and Gravesend - mostly between Blackfriars and Woolwich and taking in the docks north and south of the river. This is an area which has changed hugely since the sixties. It's also very familiar territory to me having worked alongside the River for very many years - indeed once at Puddle Dock I even managed an office looking directly out at the River! Subsequently the limits have been defined as being between Teddington Lock and the Nore Lightship.

The exhibition contained work of a high standard and a number which I wouldn't have minded taking home with me - and I think other people agreed! Yesterday, the Private View was packed out with fans of their work - resulting in a number of sales. It was great to see an exhibition which despite the numbers still found room for the sketchbooks of a number of the artists. I do feel it's a great pity that more exhibitions do not encourage some insight into the drawings and preparatory work as the major national galleries are now doing.

You can find an interesting review by Chris Beetles of the very informative and interesting book published for their 60th anniversary celebrations last year here.

The group is limited to 25 members which doubtless encourages the cofraternity of this all male group. Which is a great pity as it appears to have the dedication and rigour in its approach to plein air painting which I've been looking for in a group. I wonder what the chances are for there ever being a female member?

I don't have permission to reproduce any of the many excellent works by members of the Wapping group, so I've included a quick sketch in the spirit of the Wapping Group. It's a view of St Pauls, the City of London and the Thames from Tate Modern. I did this on 2nd November 2005, the day after the memorial service in St Pauls for the people involved in the bombings in London on July 7th 2005 - and I keep meaning to go back and draw this view again!

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  1. thank you for this very interesting post. Did you get an idea where the "artistic position" of this group is today? Are they celebrating the good old ways of painting as the examples of rather nostalgic work might suggest ? The foreword of the book contains a very critical view on all other groups which seems to fall back on the wapping group itself. How do you see the NEAC for example in comparison to the Wapping group ?

  2. Martin - I would call their style traditional rather than nostalgic. The group is also not a 'hobby group'. A number of the members are also members of other major UK art societies and their work is exhibited by a wide range of galleries. I don't know how much marine art you have in Germany but over here, what I have seen tends much more towards this perspective than (say) contemporary leading edge styles. Galleries over here also tend towards 'traditional and/or figurative' or 'contemporary and/or abstract'.

    Most of the major UK art societies are ones which tend to organise around exhibitions and a few other events rather than the painting process itself, never mind a plein air painting process. NEAC is as its name suggests the NEW English Art Club and leans more towards a contemporary approach. NEAC does have the Drawing School but other than that its activities appear to me to be much like other art socities. So far as I am aware NEAC members do not make plain air painting together on a weekly basis a major part of their activities.

    Chris Beetles who wrote the introduction also owns one of the major galleries in the centre of London's art district. He deals in English Art of the last two centuries and is an acknowledged specialist in watercolours. I'm sure he has own reasons for expressing his views in the way he does.


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