Wednesday, 17 July 2013
A lovely exhibition at the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne showing the 40 lithographs produced by some of the finest British artists of the period (in the decade following the Second World War) in an attempt to brighten up the rather tired looking Lyons Tea Shops and Corner Houses that were a staple of the refreshment and relaxation business in that long-vanished England. A lot of detective work must have gone into matching some of the prints with their original paintings and studies. The catalogue for the first series Sixteen Lithographs by Contemporary Artists (1948) bore an introduction by our old friend James Laver. I was also pleased to see two works by Michael Ayrton: The Spectators was not to my taste, but Life in Autumn was very pleasing - curiously this commission isn't mentioned in the occasionally over-detailed Ayrton biography by Justine Hopkins; there's also a very attractive John Minton Apple Orchard (see above), Kent. Many might call it twee, but consider the contrast with today, when works of art are exhibited in restaurants to show how sophisticated (or not) trendy and wealthy the owners are - the Lyons lithographs were available to buy and employees got a discount.
One downer is that the small paperback catalogue, which I wanted to buy, costs an eye-watering £40! It's not just the price of exhibitions that's becoming prohibitive. I'm sure the Lyons lithographs regularly come up for sale - here's one at the Goldmark Gallery, for example. See also an essay in The Guardian. The other illustration above is Albert Bridge by Carel Weight, who painted many locations in the area where I grew up. My book London's Coffee Houses has a section on the Lyons tea shops - see also an earlier post about the demolition of the very first one in Piccadilly, a photograph of which appears in the exhibition.