William Ascroft (don’t call him Ashcroft) is another of the great Chelsea artists in our collection. (The others, for the record are Greaves, Burgess, Griffen and Marianne Rush, although those are just the ones where we have a decent amount of their work. There are plenty of others where we just have a few works.) I did a couple of posts about Ascroft in the early days of the blog back in 2012 (here and here ) and while I wouldn’t say I didn’t do him justice, I still feel I haven’t done enough. Ascroft was a successful artist in his day. He was a Royal Academician, and is probably best known now for being commissioned by the Royal Society to paint views of the sky over London after the explosion at Krakatoa in 1883.
The truth is I just wanted to do another Ascroft post. I really like his work and have a strong urge to tell people about it. I’ve been re-arranging some of our pictures and one of the Ascroft related tasks was to remove some of his small pastel sketches from some large cardboard mounts to which they had been glued many years ago. (Rather barbarously in my opinion but I’m not a conservator so it could be argued that my opinion isn’t worth that much.) It all gave me a good reason to do some more scans of the images.
This is one of several sketches he did of the Old Swan Inn (a favourite of many Chelsea artists – the old Old Swan of course, there are not nearly so many images of the new or later Old Swan.) I’ve made some efforts not to use the same images as I have in the earlier posts, but some of the pictures just look similar.
The Old Swan is in this one too.
But you won’t mistake this one for any of his others.
The Thames at Cremorne, 1866. I haven’t cropped the edges so you can see that these sketches now look a bit rough and ragged. But they show Ascroft on the move, catching impressions at different times of day.
Some are very sketchy, like this one of the Old Church from the south side of the river.
Or this one, the point of which is the colour in the sky.
Some are barely started.
It’s nicely done. Perhaps more detail could have sprung up around the Old Church.
But even the rough ones capture the sense place. This shows the steps up to Albert Bridge.
While this one shows the gate houses on the north side of Battersea Bridge, almost looking up Beaufort Street.
I think this is before the Embankment. The story of the Ascroft sketches as told to me was that when Ascroft died, the Librarian at Chelsea Library went to his studio and bought whatever was there. Having written that sentence I thought that this was the sort of story that could be told about many of our artists. You imagine the Librarian as a kind of Lovejoy figure, haunting the galleries and studios of Chelsea. I would have liked that job. But I couldn’t believe it was quite that simple. In the spirit of fact checking I went to the Accessions Register, a ledger older than any of our libraries and found the truth. A large number of pictures by Ascroft were purchased at Pope’s Auction Rooms in Hammersmith in 1937 for the sum of £6 and 30 shillings. A pretty good investment by the perfectly respectable Librarian. No scruffy antique (or book) dealers were involved, but it’s fun to imagine the scene.
So, anyway, we do have a large number of these small pastel sketches. Back in the 20th century I once put on an exhibition of Ascroft’s work. We had a pretty good colour photocopier in those days and I used it to make enlargements of the sketches, so I didn’t have to worry about security. That seems a bit barbarous on my part now, but it was a very good photocopier. (Although it was never the same after being assaulted by a member of staff who I will not name – she knows who she is.)
This little picture shows Lindsey Row looking east, although I think it must be unfinished by the lack of a bridge.
The picture below shows Mr Radnor’s House.
On the rear of the paper, Ascroft left copious notes. I know some readers enjoy this sort of thing so it was worthwhile adding this picture.
Some pictures leave a distinctive impression half deliberately, half by chance. I couldn’t leave this one out.
But finally, some of Ascroft’s more conventional views.
The riverside, with the Old Swan again.
A look over the rooftops, perhaps from the tower of the Old Church at the river.
And one of a church, not necessarily the one we’re most familiar with, but any church, surrounded by trees.
Waiting for a story. Not for me to supply this time.
I’ll leave William Ascroft for now. But you’ll see him again one day.
I’ve just heard of the sad death of Emma Wood (obituary), Photographer, researcher and campaigner. I had dealings with her a few years ago relating to the archive of Mike Braybrook. Her energy and determination was significant in the preservation of the archive. As a librarian I’m always impressed by a dedication to the preservation of ephemera. I saw her from time to time in the library when she was researching other matters and she was always friendly and patient. My sympathies to her family and friends. It was nice to see in the Guardian obituary a photograph of a younger Emma.