Under the Influence

Under the Influence: John Deakin and the Lure of Soho, The Photographers’ Gallery until 13 July

John Deakin, contact sheet of self-portraits, for Vogue (1952)

I first came across the photographer John Deakin through the various memoirs of Daniel Farson.  Back in the 1960s, Farson was quite a celebrity and made the unusual move to the East End, taking a house on Narrow Street (near the famous Grapes pub).  He then bought a pub on the Isle of Dogs (now one of my local watering holes) and turned it into the place to go – regulars included visiting Hollywood stars like Clint Eastwood and performers included Shirley Bassey and even Judy Garland.  Farson was also known for hanging out with the Colony Room set – a group of heavy-drinking artists, musicians and writers including Francis Bacon, George Melly, Jeffrey Bernard, Michael Andrews, Lucian Freud – and John Deakin.  Farson and Deakin were close mates, although Farson introduces him in his memoir sponging money in the French House, another Soho pub popular with artists and writers.

George Melly described Deakin as a ‘vicious little drunk of such inventive malice and implacable bitchiness that it’s surprising he didn’t choke on his own venom’.  Barbara Hutton said he was ‘the second nastiest man I’ve ever met’, which baffled Deakin’s friends because they couldn’t figure out who could be nastier.  Born in Bootle in 1912, Deakin learned photography in Paris and was assigned to an army photographic unit during the war.

He worked for Vogue twice, but on both occasions he was sacked for losing his equipment.  He washed up in Soho where he wanted to become a painter, but it was as a street photographer he produced his best work.

Portrait of an unknown girl in a café, 1960s
Portrait of an Unknown Girl in a Café by John Deakin

The results offer a uniquely unguarded glimpse of the past, framed by the familiar outline of a wonderfully seedy Soho.

Lunch at Wheelers by John Deakin (1962)
Lunch at Wheelers by John Deakin (1962)

Deakin, a chronic alcoholic, thought little of his photographic talents and was careless with his archives.  Much of what remains of his work was pulled from underneath his bed in Soho after he died in 1972, or found, splattered with paint, on the floor of Francis Bacon’s studio.

Francis Bacon by John Deakin for Vogue (1952)

But it was not by chance that they ended up there. Bacon thought extremely highly of Deakin’s photographic work and some of the artist’s most successful paintings are derived from Deakin’s images. In 2012, Bacon’s Portrait of Henrietta Moraes (1963) sold for £21.3 million.  In 2013, Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) sold for $142 million, making it one of the most expensive paintings ever sold.

Both pictures were  based on photographs by John Deakin.

I’ll be discussing John Deakin and his work on John Stanford’s radio show, The Serendipitous Compendium, on Sunday 8 June.


About me…

My specialism is eighteenth-century images of London and the River Thames, although my interest in art history is not confined to this subject. 

Not by a long chalk.

On this website I will be sharing my interests in art history with anybody who might be interested.  I will publish details of my research and current projects, the discoveries I make and the theories I have about them along the way.  I will also review and promote current exhibitions and keep track of what’s on and what I think is worth visiting.  In addition, I will make recommendations about those things that interest me across the arts.

Feel free to comment or to make suggestions.


Kent-ish Town

William Kent (1685-1748) was the leading architect and designer of early Georgian Britain.  A polymath, he turned his hand to everything from painting to designing sculpture, architecture, interior decoration, furniture, metalwork, book illustration and landscape gardens.  Kent’s life coincided with a major turning point in British history – the accession of the new Hanoverian Royal Family in 1714.  This exhibition at the V&A, London, reveals how William Kent came to play a leading role in establishing a new design aesthetic for this crucial period when Britain defined itself as a nation.

An assembly at Wanstead House, William Hogarth, 1728-31

In this painting, Hogarth exaggerates Kent’s interior décor at Wanstead House.  The exhibition contains the actual sofa alongside Hogarth’s painting (from the Philadelphia Museum of Art) so you can make your own comparison.

The Bad Taste of the Town, William Hogarth, 1724

In an earlier work, The Bad Taste of the Town, Hogarth has already taken a swipe at the cult of Italian and classical art and architecture being fostered by Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, and his protégé, William Kent, whose stone figure towers above the ludicrously downgraded figures of Michelangelo and Raphael.  A closer inspection will reveal his name below the statue written ‘KNT’ – try saying that out loud!

I’ll be discussing William Kent and his enormous influence on John Stanford’s The Serendipitous Compendium on Radio Crackle this Sunday 1 June 2014.

Greenwich Riddle

Engraved by John Rogers after George Bryant Campion, pub. 1830
Engraved by John Rogers after George Bryant Campion, pub. 1830

A good friend of mine from Brühl in Germany has just given me this picture, having come across it in an antique printshop in Cologne. It’s a view of Greenwich Hospital – later known as The Royal Hospital for Seamen – which was designed by Christopher Wren and built between 1696 and 1712.  The hospital closed in 1869 and the building became the Royal Naval College in 1873.  This view is taken from Island Gardens on the south-east tip of the Isle of Dogs, which is very near to where I live – ah!

This is a steel-line engraving by John Rogers (c.1800-1882) from an original study by the English watercolour landscape painter George Bryant Campion (1795-1870) – who incidentally was Drawing Master at the Military Academy in nearby Woolwich.  I think the engraving was originally produced for the England’s Topographer series of Kent Views published in London from 1828 to 1831, although it may have also appeared in T. Allen’s Panorama of London (1830) and W. H. Ireland’s The Country of Kent (1832) – but I’m going to check that next time I’m in the British Library.

Anyway, besides all that – and the very intriguing question as to how it ended up in Cologne – is the mysterious juxtapositioning of four handwritten lines above the picture of Greenwich.

Greenwich Hospital 1830 cropped poemIn a slightly unsteady copperplate style, these words are written on the sheet of grey paper to which the print of Greenwich has been messily glued after removal from whatever publication it appeared in.  Has the whole been removed from  a nineteenth-century scrapbook?

The earliest record I can find of this epigram in print is in The New Foundling Hospital for Wit published in 1786, but it subsequently appears repeatedly in other collections of funnies, for example in Elegant Extracts (1816) and The Tickler (1819).   But what is the connection with Greenwich Hospital?  Here’s a scan of the whole page:

Greenwich Hospital 1830Could it be something recorded by a Greenwich Pensioner?  Suggestions on a postcard please!

The Eastenders that time forgot

The East London Group of ArtistsLast year David Buckman published his extensive research on the East London Group of Artists in his fascinating book From Bow to Biennale: Artists of the East London Group.  Now here’s the exhibition to accompany the book – and it’s a corker.

The East London Group of Artists were a very successful gang of painters which existed for over 10 years from the late 1920s.  In their day they were both an innovative and popular artistic movement – but they have subsequently (and very sadly) been passed over by art history.  In their heyday there were about 35 members of the group, mostly working class, realist painters who progressed to phenomenal critical acclaim by chronicling life in east London between the World Wars.

Harold Steggles, Old Ford Rd, c.1932
Harold Steggles, Old Ford Rd, c.1932

The majority of them came from humble beginnings, but their artistic talent was to flourish under the mentorship of Slade School of Fine Arts trained artist John Cooper, and the Camden Town Group member, Walter Sickert.  Their success led to artists from the group representing Britain, alongside such luminaries as Barbara Hepworth and Gilbert Spencer, at the 1936 Venice Biennale.  This is the first time their pictures have been displayed publicly for over a generation.

Sunday Morning Farringdon Rd (c.1929) by Cecil Osborne
Sunday Morning Farringdon Rd (c.1929) by Cecil Osborne

Maybe it’s because I’m familiar with this part of London, but I found these paintings of eerily empty streets both haunting and poignant.  The paintings convey a tender affection for the area and recognise beauty in the urban milieu.  Reminding me of Edward Hopper’s American townscapes – although these artists are unlikely to have been aware of their US contemporary – this exhibition of coolly atmospheric paintings is well worth a visit.

‘The East End Group of Artists: From Bow to Biennale c. 1928-1936’ is currently showing at the Nunnery Gallery, 181 Bow Road, London E3 2SJ, until 13 July, open Tues-Sun, 10am-5pm.  It’s totally free and there’s an excellent independent café attached.

I’ll be talking about the East London Group of Artists and discussing this exhibition on the Serendipitous Compendium hosted by John Stanford broadcast on Radio Crackle on Sunday 25 May.

Exhibitions, Galleries & Museums Visited in 2014

  • Whistler and the Thames, Dulwich Picture Gallery
  • Masterpieces of Chinese Painting, V&A
  • Pearls, V&A
  • Turner and the Sea, National Maritime Museum
  • Yinka Shonibare MBE at Greenwich, National Maritime Museum
  • Painting Now: Five contemporary artists, Tate Britain
  • Art Under Attack, Tate Britain
  • Only in England: Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr, Science Museum
  • Daumier: 1808-1879 Visions of Paris, Royal Academy
  • Picasso Linocuts, British Museum
  • Paul Klee: Making Visible, Tate Modern
  • Mira Schendel, Tate Modern
  • Derek Boshier: Imaginary Portraits, National Portrait Gallery
  • Starring Vivien Leigh: A Centenary Celebration, National Portrait Gallery
  • Bill Woodrow, Royal Academy
  • Alan Sorrell, Sir John Soane’s Museum
  • Stanley Spencer: Heaven in a Hell of War, Somerset House
  • Behind the Mask: Andy Gotts Portraits for BAFTA, Somerset House
  • Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2013, National Portrait Gallery
  • Janey Morris: Pre-Raphaelite Muse, National Portrait Gallery
  • Michael Peto Photographs: Mandela to McCartney, National Portrait Gallery
  • Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s, V&A
  • Pop Art Design, Barbican
  • Jake and Dinos Chapman: Come and See, Serpentine Gallery
  • Wael Shawky, Serpentine Gallery
  • Fischli/Weiss: Rock on Top of Another Rock, Serpentine Gallery
  • John Carter RA: Between Dimensions, Royal Academy
  • Transformer: Aspects of Travesty, Richard Saltoun
  • Bailey’s Stardust, National Portrait Gallery
  • Isaac Julien: Playtime, Victoria Miro (Mayfair)
  • Hans Arp: Chance – Form – Language (and a FRANZWESTigation), Hauser & Wirth, North Gallery
  • Synthesis, Trinity Buoy Wharf
  • Martin Creed: What’s the Point of It?, Hayward Gallery
  • Sun Xun: Yesterday Is Sorrow, Hayward Gallery
  • James Turrell: Recent Works, Pace London
  • Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013, Natural History Museum
  • Churchill War Rooms, Imperial War Museum
  • Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2013, Royal Observatory
  • Richard Deacon, Tate Britain
  • Hannah Höch, Whitechapel Gallery
  • Kader Attia: Continuum of Repair: The Light of Jacob’s Ladder, Whitechapel Gallery
  • Elizabeth Price: AT THE HOUSE OF MR X, Whitechapel Gallery
  • Contemporary Art Society: Damn braces: Bless relaxes, Whitechapel Gallery
  • Georgians Revealed: Life, Style and the Making of Modern Britain, British Library
  • Georg Baselitz: Farewell Bill, Gagosian Gallery, Britannia Street
  • Landscapes of Space: Paintings and Prints by Tess Jaray, Djanogly Art Gallery, Nottingham Lakeside
  • Behold the Man: Fay Mummery, Wallner Gallery, Nottingham Lakeside
  • Chekhoviana: Marketing a Foreign Classic to British Audiences, Weston Gallery, Nottingham Lakeside
  • The Aura of Boxing: The Black and White Series, Max Kandhola, New Art Exchange, Nottingham
  • The Manipulated Image, New Art Exchange, Nottingham
  • Jeremy Deller: All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, Nottingham Castle
  • Premiums: Interim Projects, Royal Academy
  • Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined, Royal Academy
  • Renaissance Impressions: Chiaroscuro Woodcuts from the Collections of Georg Baselitz and the Albertina, Vienna, Royal Academy
  • Andy Warhol, David Lynch, William S. Burroughs, The Photographers’ Gallery
  • George Condo: Headspace, Simon Lee
  • La Fine di Dio: Maurizio Cattelan, Lucio Fontana, Gagosian – Davies St
  • George Condo: Ink Drawings, Skarstedt Gallery
  • Ruin Lust, Tate Britain
  • Richard Hamilton, Tate Modern
  • Germany Divided: Baselitz and His Generation, British Museum
  • Darren Almond: To Leave a Light Impression, White Cube, Bermondsey
  • He Xiangyu: Inside the White Cube, White Cube, Bermondsey
  • Franz Ackerman: 9x9x9, White Cube, Bermondsey
  • Eleanor Moreton: Tales of Love and Darkness, Ceri Hand
  • Ellen Gallagher: New Work, Hauser & Wirth, North Gallery
  • Tales of Paradise: Gauguin, Ordovas
  • Peter Doig: Early Works, Michael Werner Gallery
  • Alex Katz: 70s / 80s / 90s, Timothy Taylor Gallery
  • Dieter Roth, Arnulf Rainer: Collaborations, Hauser & Wirth, South Gallery
  • Daphne Wright: A Small Thing To Ask, Frith Street Gallery
  • Rosson Crow, Francesca Dimattio, Mickalene Thomas: Domestic Unrest, Pippy Houldsworth Gallery
  • Michael Craig-Martin: Objects Of Our Time, Alan Cristea Gallery
  • Master Prints: Curated by Michael Craig-Martin, Alan Cristea Gallery
  • Marius Bercea: Hypernova, Blain Southern
  • The Humans, Sprüth Magers
  • The Great War in Portraits, National Portrait Gallery
  • Frozen Thames: Frost Fair 1814, Museum of London – Docklands
  • Veronese: Magnificence in Renaissance Venice, National Gallery
  • Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs, Tate Modern
  • A Dialogue with Nature: Romantic Landscapes from Britain and Germany, Courtauld
  • Court and Craft: A Masterpiece from Northern Iraq, Courtauld
  • Boro: Threads of Life, Somerset House
  • Burnt Generation, Somerset House
  • Giorgio de Chirico: Myth and Mystery, Estorick Collection
  • Mondrian and Cubism: Paris 1912-14, Gemeentemuseum den Haag
  • Highlights Mauritshuis, Gemeentemuseum den Haag
  • Panorama Mesdag, The Hague
  • Patrick Hughes: Moving Space, Panorama Mesdag
  • Escher in het Paleis, The Hague
  • Vermeer Centrum, Delft
  • Nieuwe Kerk, Delft
  • Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
  • The East London Group of Artists: From Bow to Biennale, The Nunnery
  • William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain, V&A
  • Under the Influence: John Deakin and the Lure of Soho, The Photographers’ Gallery
  • Deutsche Börse Prize 2014, The Photographers’ Gallery
  • Tate Britain Commission 2014: Phyllida Barlow – Dock, Tate Britain
  • Kenneth Clark: Looking for Civilisation, Tate Britain
  • The Glamour of Italian Fashion: 1945-2014, V&A
  • M. F. Husain: Master of Modern Indian Painting, V&A
  • Summer Exhibition, Royal Academy
  • 4 Painters 10 Works, Josh Lilley
  • The False Memory Archive, Carroll/Fletcher
  • The False Memory Archive, Freud Museum
  • Elizabeth Neel: The People, The Park, The Ornament, Pilar Corrias
  • British Folk Art, Tate Britain
  • Lynn Chadwick: Retrospectives, Blain Southern
  • David Hockney: The Arrival of Spring, Annely Juda
  • Ian Davenport: Colourfall, Waddington Custot
  • Kazimir Malevich, Tate Modern
  • Mauritshuis, The Hague
  • Mauritshuis – The Building, Mauritshuis, The Hague
  • Marina Abramović: 512 Hours, Serpentine Gallery
  • Ed Atkins, Serpentine Sackler Gallery
  • Masterpieces from the Great Gallery, Wallace Collection
  • The Wallace Collection, Wallace Collection
  • Winding of the Clocks, Wallace Collection
  • Tove Jansson: Tales from the Nordic Archipelago, ICA
  • Journal, ICA
  • Making Colour, National Gallery
  • BP Portrait Award, NPG
  • Portraying the Past, Society of Antiquaries of London
  • Dennis Hopper: The Lost Album, RA
  • Artistic Exchanges: Corot, Costa, Leighton, National Gallery
  • Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision, NPG
  • Forgotten Faces, Tate Britain
  • Bodies of Nature, Tate Britain
  • Chris Killip, Tate Britain
  • Silent Exchange: the Landscape Photography of Charlie Waite, National Theatre
  • The Human Factor, Hayward
  • Richard Wilson, National Museum of Wales
  • Jacques Limousin: River Works, The Crystal
  • Progress, Foundling Museum
  • Frank Auerbach: Paintings and Drawings from the Lucien Freud Estate, Tate Britain
  • Late Turner: Painting Set Free, Tate Britain
  • Radical Geometry: Modern Art of South America, RA
  • The Real Tudors: Kings and Queens Rediscovered, NPG
  • The World of Rupert Potter: Photographs of Beatrix, Millais and Friends – NPG
  • Rachel Kneebone: 399 Days – White Cube Bermondsey
  • Gilbert & George: Scapegoating Pictures for London, White Cube, Bermondsey
  • The Foreign & Commonwealth Office, King Charles St
  • Royal Society of Chemistry, Burlington House
  • Peggy Angus: Designer, Teacher, Painter, Towner, Eastbourne
  • Land and Sea, Towner
  • Ravilious Room, Towner
  • East Sussex Open 2014, Towner
  • Constable: The Making of a Master, V&A
  • Ships, Clocks & Stars: The Quest for Longitude, NMM
  • The Wolsey Angels, V&A
  • John Fontcuberta: Stranger than Fiction, Science Museum
  • Make Life Worth Living: Nick Hedges’ Photographs for Shelter 1968-72, Science Museum
  • The First Georgians: Art and Monarchy 1714-1760, Queen’s Gallery
  • Frieze Art Fair, Regent’s Park
  • Louis Kahn: The Power of Architecture, Design Museum
  • Alibis: Sigmar Polke, Tate Modern
  • Anselm Kiefer, RA
  • Anarchy and Beauty: William Morris and his Legacy, NPG
  • Grayson Perry: Who Are You?, NPG
  • Designing the 20th Century: Life and Works of Abram Games, Jewish Museum
  • Jeremy Deller: English Magic, Turner Contemporary
  • Krijn de Koning: Dwelling, Turner Contemporary
  • Edmund de Waal: Atmosphere, Turner Contemporary
  • Rembrandt: Late Works, National Gallery
  • Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age, Barbican
  • Walead Beshty, Barbican
  • Chiswick House
  • Turner Prize 2014, Tate Britain
  • Poor Man’s Picture Gallery: Victorian Art and Stereoscopic Photography, Tate Britain
  • William Hazlitt: Through the Eyes of a Critic, Tate Britain
  • William Hogarth 1697-1754, Tate Britain
  • Truth and Memory: British Artists of the First World War, IWM
  • A Victorian Obsession: The Pérez Simón Collection, Leighton House
  • Jasper Johns: Regrets, Courtauld
  • Egon Schiele: The Radical Nude, Courtauld
  • The Book of Kells, Trinity College Library, Dublin
  • Dublin’s City Hall: The Story of the Capital, Dublin
  • Duncan Campbell, Irish Museum of Modern Art
  • Primal Architecture, Irish Museum of Modern Art
  • Yeats: The Life and Works of William Butler Yeats, National Library of Ireland
  • Lines of Vision: Irish Writers at the National Gallery, National Gallery of Ireland
  • Hennessy Portrait Prize ’14, National Gallery of Ireland
  • Jean Bardon: Recent Works & Louise Leonard: Town and Country, Graphic Studio Gallery, Dublin
  • Efforts and Ideals: Prints of the First World War, Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane
  • Phoenix Rising: Art and the Civic Imagination, Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane
  • Francis Bacon Studio, Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane
  • Richard Tuttle: I Don’t Know, Or The Weave of Textile Language, TM
  • Giovanni Battista Moroni, RA
  • Allen Jones RA, RA
  • Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination, British Library
  • Post Pop: East Meets West, Saatchi Gallery
  • Hiroshi Sugimoto: Still Life, Pace London
  • Horst: Photographer of Style, V&A
  • Disobedient Objects, V&A
  • Conflict Time Photography, TM
  • Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize, NPG
  • Maggie Hambling: Walls of Water, NG
  • Peder Balke, NG
  • Twixt Two Worlds, Towner
  • Frames of Mind, Towner
  • Mirrorcity: London Artists on Fiction and Reality, Hayward

The Great Dutch Ship Robbery

Stern carving from the Royal Charles, c. 1660

This is possibly one of the most intriguing exhibits (for me) in the whole of the Rijksmuseum’s collection.  These arms of Charles II once adorned the stern transom, or ‘counter’, of the English flagship  the Royal Charles.  During the Second Anglo-Dutch War, the Dutch bombarded then captured Sheerness before sailing up the Thames to Gravesend, then up the Medway to Chatham where they burned three of the British navy’s most important ships and other vessels before towing away the Unity and the Royal Charles to the Netherlands where they were broken up.   The counter decoration from the Royal Charles was preserved  to commemorate this remarkable Dutch triumph and the worst defeat in the Royal Navy’s history – and here it is in all its glory some 350+ years later.

Nearby hangs this painting by Willem Schellinks which depicts the extraordinary Dutch naval coup taking place.

Willem Schellinks
Willem Schellinks, The burning of the English fleet near Chatham, June 1667, during the second Anglo-Dutch war (1667-1678)

And this alternative take on it by Jan Van Leyden

Jan Van Leyden, The Dutch burning English ships during the Raid on the Medway, 20 June 1667 (c.1667-69)
Jan Van Leyden, The Dutch burning English ships during the Raid on the Medway, 20 June 1667 (c.1667-69)

I feel a paper coming on…