I paid a visit to the Walsall Art Gallery which houses the Garman-Ryan Collection. Sally Garman was Jacob Epstein’s lifelong mistress who he married late in life. Garman was born in nearby Wednesbury – a fact which influenced her decision to choose Walsall as a home for the collection of Epstein’s bronzes and the art works that she and her friend Sally Ryan had collected.
The Epstein bronzes in the collection are powerful works modelled directly and retaining a satisfying feeling for the plastic nature of clay. Epstein made friends with the Parisian avant-garde in the 1930’s particularly Modigliani. His interest in modernism made him a controversial figure yet he was denied the acclaim which he deserved. In the post war years he became sidelined largely due to the promotion of Henry Moore by the then Director of the National Gallery, Kenneth Clarke.
The rest of the collection consists chiefly of drawings and works on paper – minor works perhaps but many are worth close study. A nicely handled drawing by Sickert of St. Marks Square freely drawn in pencil overlaid with watercolour washes. Then a small watercolour of Westminster Bridge with detail subtly added with diluted ink.
Another favourite is a small etching of riverside buildings at Chelsea. Whistler is mostly known by his loosely handled Nocturnes – sand also the controversial ‘Cremorne Gardens, the Falling Rocket.’ This little etching shows him to be a sound draughtsman. An artist who has learned his craft so well is entitled to display a little cockney impudence and fling a pot of paint in the public’s face occasionally. Ruskin, who was invariably right in his comments on art, was wrong in his assessment of Whistler.