Completed Portraits: British 20th C, South East England: Artists and Subjects 32 Who painted Alderman Major Leslie Chalk, Mayor of Tenterden?

KT_TTH_01_013
Topic: Artist

The painting is signed and dated bottom right.

Does anyone recognise the signature?

Martin Hopkinson, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The artist has been identified as Douglas Rupert Relf (1907–1970) and a short biography produced for Art UK.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.

31 comments

Alastair Adams,

Could that be David Rolt, who was active painting portraits at the time? I am not an expert but he did exhibit as a non menber with the Royal Society of Portrait Painters.

Jacinto Regalado,

This does not appear to match Rolt's style. Too photographic.

Bill Ellson,

FWIW

East Kent Gazette 1 December 1961
"Chairman of Kent County British Legion for 14 years, Maj. Leslie Chalk retired from office at the annual conference at Maidstone Saturday. He has received from Kent members a portrait in oils, 48in. by 36in., of himself in his Tenterden mayoral robes."

Unlikely, but not entirely impossible that a relevant British Legion record is extant.

Osmund Bullock,

Good find, Bill. Why don't you email them to ask? https://bit.ly/3jqhXFO

I agree that this is most unlikely to be by Rolt. As Jacinto notes, his brushwork is very different - much looser, both in his many 1940s portraits and in later, ones such as https://bit.ly/32ActCx and https://bit.ly/39dHm0V. About the tightest, most literal one I could find was this from the early 1960s https://bit.ly/2CUt2hy; it still has nothing in common with ours. In the 40s Rolt signed with his full name and full year - later he seems to have used just initials or not signed at all.

Jacinto Regalado,

Could this be a photograph processed to simulate a painting? It certainly looks photographic.

Peter Amsden 01,

I am inclined to agree. The background appears to be of far less quality that the used on the sitter. Looks like it may have been added latter. i have not seen the original, but some of the work around the chair back looks odd against the background.

Kieran Owens,

As it was created in the not-too-distant past, perhaps the Kent branch of the British Legion might still have records or accounts from 1961 that reference the commissioning of this portrait.

Osmund Bullock,

Yes, Bill Ellson raised that possibility on Monday, and I suggested he might email them (see https://bit.ly/3jqhXFO). If Bill doesn't want to, I'm happy to do it...but we should avoid doubling up on it. Bill?

It is certainly quite likely that the portrait was based on a photograph, and not impossible it was painted over a photographic 'template'. But even from the Art UK image it's clear - to me, at least - that actual paint has been applied, as opposed to just a thick layer of varnish brushed roughly over the top to mimic painted brushstrokes - that technique is only effective with a photo of a painted picture, anyway. Moreover ours is signed and dated, and the contemporary newspaper report specifically stated it was a portrait in oils. We have suspected photographic origins quite a few times on here, but we've been wrong more then once - at least about the extent to which it was involved. Remember, for example, this one https://bit.ly/32FA3h3?

Assuming no particular familiarity with art and artists by the British Legion, it seems to me that they would probably have chosen either (a) a local artist (see this discussion https://bit.ly/2ZOjEFy for another rather 'photographic' Kentish mayoral portrait that was painted by a local), or (b) one of the stable of artists who did photo-based portraits for our old friends the Hans Gallery or somebody similar, probably in London. Hans was still in business in the 1960s, and somewhere I have a file of their newspaper ads that often mention artists' names: I will look it out.

Our post on Tenterden Nostalgia's Facebook page has had one like and one share, so we'll keep our hopes up there.

Has anyone already contacted The Royal British Legion? If not, I'll do that.

Osmund, you mentioned that you were going to look out a file of Hans Gallery newspaper ads.

Osmund Bullock,

I haven't been in touch with the British Legion, Marion, so if you have time that would be great - still happy to do it if you haven't.

My "file" of ads by the Hans Galleries [sic...I have been wrongly calling it the Hans GallerY] turned out to be just a handful of them relating mainly to Arthur George Mills or Frank & Mary Eastman. So I'm now re-searching the Times archive (300 hits) & the BNA for both advertising and editorial copy, and will report back shortly. I have found about 20 names, though some of those were probably not really of the 'stable'; sadly I can see no likely candidates among them. It seems,too, that Hans stopped mentioning specific artists' names in their ads after 1959.

Osmund Bullock,

Right, here is the promised list (alphabetical) of artists known to have been associated with the Hans Galleries*. Sadly I don’t think it helps this discussion, but is perhaps worth posting for posterity. The artists’ names are followed by the year(s) when they appear (usually in newspaper ads or stories). There may well have been others: in 1947 the gallery was offering "a choice of 15 Royal Academy exhibitors":

Howard Barron 59
**Wilfrid de Glehn 48
(David) Cowan Dobson 59
Thomas Cantrell Dugdale 47, 48
Frank Eastman 51,59
Mary Eastman 52, 53
**Simon Elwes 48
Arthur (Davenport?) Fuller 53
^^Godfrey Hayman
Frank (Francis William?) Helps 53
Herbert Holt 47, 48
**Sir Gerald Kelly 48
Harold Knight 59
Reginald Lewis 53
Arnold Mason 51
Arthur George Mills 53, 59
Arthur Pan 51
Leonard Campbell Taylor 54, 55
Alfred Reginald Thomson 48
Bernard Fleetwood-Walker 47, 48
John Wheatley 51

*The business existed as ‘Hamond-Jacques-Hans Galleries’ at 153 Brompton Rd from Dec 1945 and into ‘46; then as ‘Hans Galleries’ at 6 Old Bond St (1947–48) and 40 Duke St (1950–66). In its final year or so (1967–March 68) it just operated from a box no. at The Times.

**Works by these artists (and perhaps some others on the list) were advertised as being exhibited there, but it's unclear from the wording if Hans were actually their agents for commissioning portraits; perhaps they were hoping to be – certainly they don't seem to have been part of the gallery’s regular 'stable'.

^^Godfrey Henry Hayman (1904-1963), FRSA (elected 1949), seems to have run and/or owned the gallery from at least July 1947 until his death. However his name first appears two months earlier as (if I'm reading it right) the artist of a one-man exhibition of ‘paintings from photographs’ held by Hans in May at Whistler’s House in Cheyne Walk. It is just possible, though, that Hayman was the organizer, not the artist. In the 1939 Register his occupation is given as ‘Artist’s Agent’.

There is more to say about how Hayman did business, and if the wording of his ads was deliberately vague and open to misinterpretation, but I’m now so far off-topic that I think we’d better leave it at that. If Pieter or anyone else wishes to write an ‘artist-style’ mini-biog for Hans I can provide plenty more detail.

Osmund Bullock,

Thanks, Marion. Let's hope it proves more fruitful than my long diversion.

The information provided by Osmund is enormously helpful. However, I think we can rule out most, if not all, of the artists associated with the Hans Galleries. There are some distinguished names there who in my opinion would not consider such a commission from the local branch of the Royal British Legion as I imagine the potential 'budget' would not have met expectations! I read the signature as 'Relf' or 'Ralf'. It seems to be four letters only. I have some quite comprehensive records on Post War artists in East Sussex, especially around Rye, which is the nearest large scale artist community near to Tenterden, but I cannot find an artist match in the area. Perhaps he/she was a London based painter of the older generation or an inexpensive 'copyist'?

Osmund Bullock,

While I agree that Ralf/Relf/Rolf seems the most likely reading of the signature, the resolution is not quite high enough to be sure – the two centre letters seem odd, and in fact look more like 'id'. I feel sure that Marion has already asked the Collection if they could do better, perhaps with a digital snap, but it would be enormously helpful if that were possible.

[A final after-note re the Hans Galleries: it looks like my suspicions about their loosely-worded ads may have been correct. In Sep 2001 Christie’s sold a de Laszlo portrait that according to the catalogue had been exhibited at the Hans Galleries. It was painted in 1923. It seems likely that some of the names they bandied about were artists whose works they had in stock as dealers, rather than (as they sometimes implied) being portraitists with whom they had a relationship.]

I have noticed that Leslie Chalk, FAI (born Beckenham 17/07/1892 - died Maidstone 21/08/1965) was the only partner for many years in the fine art auctioneering firm, Hatch & Waterman, based in Tenterden. He handled for example the sale of art and antiques at Saltwood Castle held in 1953. So we are researching the portrait of someone who would have had extensive contacts in the fine art world. I wonder whether he used one or more of those contacts in the commissioning of this portrait?

The collection has kindly provided a close-up of the signature and another of a portrait of Pauline Chalk, the major's wife (donor of this discussion's painting), by the same artist. Mrs Chalk's portrait was donated to the Council about two years ago. That can be added to Art UK as soon as we can obtain a good quality image. The one attached is a snapshot through reflective glass.

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Osmund Bullock,

Yes, clearly Relf. Many thanks to Marion and especially the Collection - it's an excellent image. And Grant's very interesting discovery opens up lots more avenues.

Interestingly we have on Art UK another Kentish mayoral portrait (by the well-known Bernard Hailstone) of Mrs D.M. Relf, 1st Lady Mayor of Maidstone in the early 1950s: https://bit.ly/313IH7Z . Perhaps just coincidence, but Maidstone is less than 20 miles from Tenterden; I feel we're getting close.

Thank you Marion. I wonder who donated the portrait of Mrs Chalk, as it is possible that party will be aware of the identity of the artist? Mrs Pauline Berenice Chalk (1927-2001) is described in local Tenterden notes as 'one of the first lady auctioneers'. I presume that she was employed in her husband's firm of Hatch & Waterman and possibly continued the business after Major Chalk's death.

There is a Douglas Relf who exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1935 to 1950. He lived in 1935 in Lee, south-east London, and from 1936 in Hatfield Peverel, Essex until at least 1950. Although he was a landscape painter mainly he also painted portraits. Lee isn't that far from Beckenham where Major Chalk was born. Perhaps they knew each other? It may be worth a closer look.

The artist's mini biography is as follows:

Douglas Rupert Relf (1907-1970) was a painter mainly in oils of landscapes, still life and portraits. He was born at Prittlewell, Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex in November 1907. Relf exhibited fourteen times at the Royal Academy between 1935 and 1950 and he also showed his work at the Royal Society of British Artists and the Royal Institute of Oil Painters. He was working in Lee in south-east London in the early 1930s and married in Lewisham in 1935. By the following year he had removed to Hatfield Peverel, near Braintree in Essex, where he lived for about fifteen years. In the early 1950s he settled at Great Chart, near Ashford in Kent, where he died in April 1970. His work is represented in the National Railway Museum and in the collection of Tenterden Town Council.

Osmund Bullock,

Well done, Grant.

Relf's bread-and-butter, at least during the 50s & 60s, seems to have been more commercial art/illustration. His entry in Horne's '20th Century Book Illustrators' (attached) gives 15 books, and a search on Abebooks produces no less than 54 further titles for sale illustrated by him, mainly historical adventures for older children. Other websites reveal half a dozen more - a total of at least 75 published 1950-1967 with two outliers in '30 & '39.

The 1948 poster design for newly-nationalised British Railways on the Science Museum website is in fact the one held by the National Railway Museum (as per Grant's biog), and viewable on Art UK: https://bit.ly/2Q0ANWF . The NRM is part of the Science Museum group. The poster title was 'Cheltenham Spa for the Cotswolds', which might be a better, or at least a useful additional title for it on Art UK: https://bit.ly/3iQsY24. He did at least one other railway poster, this time for about-to-be-nationalised GWR in 1947: https://bit.ly/3h13nmF

Osmund Bullock,

Attached is a somewhat clearer version of the signature found by Grant

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Grant, thank you for writing up a biography and many thanks to all concerned for a swift, successful conclusion. I look forward to receiving a recommendation to update the record when you're ready.

Thanks to Osmund for the excellent image of the signature found by Grant.

The artist has been identified as Douglas Rupert Relf (1907-1970) who at the time this work was painted in 1961 was living at Great Chart, which is about ten miles from Tenterden. The painting of Major Leslie Chalk is signed lower right 'Relf' and dated (19)61. The signature has been checked and verified against known examples by Douglas Relf. A 'mini' biography of the artist is pasted below in case this will be of assistance to Tenterden Town Council. It is recommended that this discussion now be closed and the details of the artist updated from British (English) School to Douglas Rupert Relf. With thanks to all who contributed to the discussion and in particular to Osmund Bullock for his suggestions for additions to the artist's biography.
_______________________________________________________________

Douglas Rupert Relf (1907-1970) was a painter mainly in oils of landscapes, still life and portraits and later in life he worked also as a commercial artist and as an illustrator of numerous books. He was born at Prittlewell, Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex in November 1907. Relf exhibited fourteen times at the Royal Academy between 1935 and 1950 and he also showed his work at the Royal Society of British Artists and the Royal Institute of Oil Painters. He was working in Lee in south-east London in the early 1930s and married in Lewisham in 1935. By the following year he had removed to Hatfield Peverel, near Braintree in Essex, where he lived for about fifteen years. In the early 1950s he settled at Great Chart, near Ashford in Kent, where he died in April 1970. His work is represented in the National Railway Museum by a poster design and in the collection of Tenterden Town Council by two portraits.

Before we close this, I'm happy to add that The Royal British Legion contacted me today offering to put me in touch with someone who might be able to help. I thanked them, but I won't follow that up.