A new exhibition will celebrate an artist and designer who once plied his trade on the Sheffield Telegraph. Ian Soutar reports
AN exhibition opening at the Graves Gallery, The Power of the Print: Leonard Beaumont Rediscovered, revisits the work of a neglected son of the city.
Leonard Beaumont was a prolific artist and designer, whose skilful etchings and bold modernist linocuts from the Twenties and Thirties have rarely received the attention they deserve.
Born in Sheffield in 1891, he joined the Sheffield Daily Telegraph aged 16, working as a junior while attending evening classes at the Sheffield School of Art. Following service overseas during the First World War, he returned to the paper where he would eventually lead the art team.
“He worked on the paper mostly as a designer on the advertising side rather than doing drawings and cartoons to illustrate the news items like some of his colleagues,” says Sian Brown, Curatorial Services Manager at Museums Sheffield. Contemporaries on the staff included James Dowd, who went on to be a Punch cartoonist, and Stanley Royle and William Ramsden Brearley who became established artists.
“At the same time he was doing his own artwork,” continues Brown. “He began with drypoint which is essentially scraping on to a plate and then went over to etching. Although he attended evening classes at Sheffield School of Art he was essentially self-taught.”
Beaumont initially found inspiration for his etchings and drypoint work in the dramatic vistas of the Alps during holidays in Switzerland, and subsequently in the street life of Madeira and Tenerife. The highly realistic prints he produced were each drawn from the recollection. He never worked outdoors, instead relying on memory to create his finely detailed scenes, many of which were displayed at the Royal Academy.
Beaumont’s numerous linocuts showcase a far bolder graphic style, clearly influenced by the Vorticist movement,
Brown compares an etching and a linocut whose subjects are both industrial grinders. “They were completed within a year of each other but you would not think they were done by the same artist.
“The colour and geometric shapes in his linocuts make them so much more dynamic that the etchings which are more elaborate and complex,” observes Brown.
“All the work on show is condensed into a comparatively small period because in 1936 he moved to London and started to work full-time in advertising. He worked for United Artists, the film distributors, the GPO on posters and stamps, and for Sainsbury’s where in 1950 Beaumont was appointed as design consultant at an interesting time in their history when they were switching from counter service to shelves.” He went on to pioneer a consistent, recognisable identity for the supermarket before his retirement in 1964.
“He seems to have stopped printmaking,” says Brown. “There was a group of artists in London called the Grosvenor School who produced linocuts very much on the same lines as Beaumont but he wasn’t part of it. But because the work is similar he has become associated with them.”
In 1982 he presented to the city 80 of his early works which prompted an exhibition at the Graves the following year. “He was still living in London then but came up a couple of times while they were setting up. He was in his nineties by then and soon moved back up and lived his final years in a nursing home at Hathersage.
“Among the collection of mostly early work there is a self-portrait which he had completed a few years earlier. He discussed whether it should be called a self-portrait or ‘a picture of an ancient monument without a preservation order’. That’s an example of his self-deprecating humour.
“There’s not a huge amount of information about him,” says the curator. “When he came to donate work to the city he didn’t write down much about his work as an artist. It seems he didn’t talk about his work and also he never really established himself as a significant artist although he was quite successful, being exhibited at the Royal Academy, the Redfern Gallery in London, the Glasgow Society of Painter-Etchers and the Edinburgh Society of Artists-Printers.
“He’s a bit of a mysterious character.”
The Power of the Print: Leonard Beaumont Rediscovered opens at the Graves Gallery on Saturday and continues until September 14.