Tag Archives: Francis Griffen

Mr Griffen in his studio

Although some people liked my post about Francis Griffen back in July as it turned out there still seems to be little known about him. One reader made a comment about buying  some greetings cards featuring paintings by Griffen. I was already aware of this set, of five pictures. They were originally published by a Mr T G Stanton in the 1990s. I think the same gentleman made an offer to buy our Griffen collection about the same time. (We declined. Apart from our general policy about art works, the collection was donated to the Library by Griffen’s widow.) This is one of the pictures:

An August night 1923

An autumn night, 1923. A completely finished work, as opposed to most of the pictures in our collection. For me, it is reminiscent of one of  Yoshio Markino’s night time pictures of London.

Griffen liked street scenes showing ordinary life in progress but his other major interest was in industrial settings, and this is also reflected in the set of cards.

King's Cross Goods Yard 1937

A fascinating view of King’s Cross goods yard in 1937. Note the man on the horse, and the tram just visible on the right.

Griffen’s Chelsea pictures are less finished but just as effective.

The river Good Friday 1934 2059

This 1934 view of the river looking west is immediately recognisable with St Mary’s Church and the railway bridge but  Griffen has found an angle which doesn’t include Lots Road power station.

The picture below shows a familiar Chelsea scene in 1935, Sloane Square looking towards the original Peter Jones building.

Sloane Square Jan 1935 2063C

It also features a fine example of a group of one of Griffen’s favourite slinky women.

Sloane Square Jan 1935 detail

He captures them and the look of 30s fashion in a few pencil strokes. The quite large dog (maybe a German shepherd, or an Alsatian as they used to be known ) is a realistic touch, obviously much more than a fashion accessory. There’s another fashionable woman in this picture.

Lombard Terrace 1934 2067C 02 - Copy

This is Cheyne Walk looking towards the Old Church. (Incidentally, I’ve had to crop this one a little bit so if the compostion doesn’t look quite right blame me not Griffen)

In the last Griffen post you saw a view of the ruins of the church after the bomb incident that virtually destroyed it. Griffen also recorded the aftermath of another major bomb incident in 1944 at the Guinness Trust buildings in the King’s Road.

Griffen- The Ruined Guinness Trust KingsRoad May 13 1944

This is a rough pencil sketch of the scene some weeks after the incident which was on February 23rd. A couple of bombs had fallen, one fracturing gas and water mains, the other causing the collapse of housing blocks. 76 people lost their lives that night. A volunteer fireman named Anthony Smith won the George Cross for his efforts in saving people and risking his own life by entering collapsed and flooded basements.

This 1953 etching is a view of a house near the Old Church.

Griffen - House next to Old Church June 1953 2065C

Griffen’s work on the details of the house is quite meticulous.

The next two images show work in progress, two versions of the same basic view.

Griffen - Chelsea Polytechnic may 29 1939 2107AGriffen - Chelsea Polytechnic march 01 1939 2104A hand wiped

The pictures are both labelled “Chelsea Polytechnic” but this may not refer to the subject, which looks a little more like Old  Church Street to me. They are dated 1939.

Griffen - In Grosvenor Road July 1951 2098A

This rverside view is called “In Grosvenor Road,1951”, a location just outside Chelsea.

The title of this week’s post promised you Griffen in his studio. And here he is:

Griffen 2054C

A self-portrait of a working artist looking out on his neighbourhood.

Finally, a couple of classic Chelsea images. This is a 1912 picture of a famous sight in Oakley Street.

Griffen - Dr Phene's house Oakley Street 1912 2078A

Dr Phene’s house, ten years or so before its demolition.

Another subject tackled by many local artists, Albert Bridge.

Albert Bridge 2052D 01 (2)

Once again I find myself thinking of Yoshio Markino who painted the bridge from a similar angle. This picture is quite large but I wanted to use it so I scanned it in two sections. You can just see a line on the right. I hope that doesn’t spoil the view.

Postscript

The two greetings cards were published in 1998 part of a set of five by the aforementioned T G Stanton.

I mentioned the reader who made a comment on the last Griffen post to whom I sent a copy of the first image. She mentioned that she had bought the cards in the UK but was now back in Mongolia. I couldn’t help but wonder what Griffen would have thought of his having an admirer who lived so far from his home in Chelsea.


Griffen of Chelsea: fragments from an artist’s studio

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 - Gas works in Chelsea 1935 2nd composition B2088 back of envelope

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:

Griffen - Chelsea Railway Staion nov 14 1950 trial proof 2085

“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.

Griffen - Chelsea Railway Stationjan 16 1951 3rd state suggested improvements 2087A

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.

Griffen - Drawing mar 28 1959 2097A

 

 

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:

Copy (2) of Griffen - view frm Bagley's End July 1944  2080A

Copy of Griffen - view frm Bagley's End July 1944  2080A

 

Finshed pictures show that all the careful sketching paid off whether the result was monochrome as in this drawing.

Griffen - March sunshine in Kings Road mar 26 1949 2097S price 12-6

Or fully coloured as in this view of Chelsea Old Church after it was bombed in 1941.

Griffen - The ruins of Chelsea Old Church May 1941 2075B

Griffen could also do the pretty houses and familiar views of Chelsea as in this watercolour of Lindsey House:

Griffen - Lindsey House 1919-20 B2696

But I think his most personal material is about labour and industry.

Griffen - Dredger at work on Thames 1938 B2073

A dredger at work on the Thames.

Griffen - From Battersea Bridge Aug 1938

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

Griffen - Drawing of a woman rear of 2069B

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.

Griffen -Study for a black and white drawing of Albert Bridge oct 9 1938 2095A

Or this picture, probably the best of his work in our collection.

Griffen Fulham Road 1946

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.

Postscript

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…….”

Here’s hoping.


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