It was back in 2012 that I used a picture of Lots Road Power Station by Alfred Francis Griffen in a post and promised you would see more of the artist in the future. I’m finally making good on that promise. While I was scanning these images I googled Griffen to see if there was anything else about him out there, and all I found was my own post. So let’s see if we can shed some more light on an apparently almost forgotten artist.
The Library has a small collection of work by Griffen, mostly sketches in pencil, ink and water colours with a few etchings and some finished works. These were donated to the Library by his widow in 1955. She must have known that even his sketches and unfinished work would be of interest in the future. There is enough of this material to show that he was a skilled artist with an lively eye for detail and atmosphere.
Griffen’s work is almost unique in our collection because of his interest in the back streets and industrial settings of the western end of Chelsea, where he lived and worked. This sketch shows his ability to capture the action in a quiet street and the attention to detail which characterises his work. Do you see the man on the left defying superstition by walking under a ladder? Here are two versions of the same etching:
“Chelsea Railway Station November 1950” – This may be the station near the Chelsea Football ground which was closed in 1940. Some of the station buildings may have survived as long as 1950.
He has marked the areas where he has made changes. Some more shading of the figures of the entwined couple has brought them to life. Underneath he has written “with suggested improvements in figures” in the same red ink.
Half-finished sketches give some idea of how he created pictures.
The contrast between the careful ink work on the finished part and the pencillled section is fascinating in this view of Milmans Street. (I think it says Milman anyway)
He tried several times to get the view below right:
Finshed pictures show that all the careful sketching paid off whether the result was monochrome as in this drawing.
Or fully coloured as in this view of Chelsea Old Church after it was bombed in 1941.
Griffen could also do the pretty houses and familiar views of Chelsea as in this watercolour of Lindsey House:
But I think his most personal material is about labour and industry.
A dredger at work on the Thames.
Another view of Lots Road Power Station, from Battersea Bridge. Many of the skecthes are on the back of scrap paper, envelopes and forms he had probably retrieved from work. But on the back of that picture I found a rough sketch of a woman
She looks smartly dressed as if she was going to appear in one of his views of Sloane Square, or Albert Bridge like this colour sketch for a drawing eventually completed in pencil.
Or this picture, probably the best of his work in our collection.
Fulham Road, at the Queen’s Elm, 1946. The war is over, the lights are back on. A disabled man and his wife cross the road. A woman in a fur jacket with three children crosses the other way The buses are running, fully illuminated. In the far distance the tower of St Stephen’s Hospital. I know this spot well from the brighter end of the century. Griffen has caught the smoky atmosphere of early evening in a city recovering from war. I think our friend Yoshio Markino would have recognized this scene.
I haven’t completely exhausted our collection of Griffen pictures if you’re interested in seeing more. I don’t have a great deal of biographical information on him although I know some people have collected his work. He lived quietly in a flat in Gertrude Street, Chelsea with his wife Edith from 1935 until his death in 1955. Their surname was mispelled as Griffin in the electoral register in the pre-war years. Some years ago a gentleman sent us some greetings cards with Griffen pictures of other parts of London, which I have kept hoping that someday I would be able to use them, as I may in a later post.
When I describe an artist as almost forgotten I expect that several people will come forward and say: “No, we know all about him, he’s highly thought of in some circles and you can see more of his work at…….”