Henry Stockley

Henry Stockley

Henry Stockley ('Busdriver' Stockley) (1892-1982) was an English primitive artist.

Introduction

"The know alls never know quite enough." Henry Stockley.

Henry Stockley, once called 'the greatest inspired painter since William Blake', was probably the most important primitive artists active in the period 1930 to 1960. His work suffered years of neglect, however, that was partially reversed, with the publication of a number of articles, and in particular a major exhibition devoted to his life and art at the London Transport Museum [July 1996 to March 1997] . The location is significant. For many years Henry Stockley was a bus driver.

Henry Stockley was born 1892 at 10 Willow Terrace, Eynsford, Kent, the third son of ten children; there were eight boys and two girls. Henry's parents were William and Frances Stockley. William was a sign writer in gold leaf and a plumber. The terrace and the interior of his birthplace were recorded in the Channel 4 documentary on Eynsford, where we are shown one of his younger sisters, Florence Martin, at the very end of her life. Florence described life in the cottage in those early days: We got our water from a well, 1 well between 6 cottages, our only lights were oil lamps and candles, no street lamps of course, but how bright the stars seemed to be. The WC was a little walk from the house, so one had a candle in a Jam jar to light one. 3 lavs between 6 houses! just dirt ones at lst...Our father was a master plumber but owing to ill health wasn't always able to work, so Mum did needlework, sometimes took in washing to make ends meet! ... The road through the village was just a dirt road, very dusty, then they started to tar them ... The only traffic was horses & carts, & if one had a bicycle one was very well off... Opposite our cottage was a stack yard where the corn was stacked ready for thrashing. Dolling had a thrashing machine, & once a year used to thrash the corn from the stacks... [Florence Martin, unpublished manuscript]

The villages and landscape of North Kent, the landscape of Samuel Palmer, form an important element in Stockley’s visual memory. Two boys died in infancy, and one tragically in an accident in his early twenties. Frank's death was to have a significant influence on Henry as an artist. Henry started school in a room at the Manse, High Street, Eynsford and then moved to the village school. He left school at thirteen, and started work in a slaughterhouse at the village butchers [Pockocks, Eynsford] and at an early age moved to Farnham, Surrey, where he worked in a slaughterhouse, attached to T. Stratford, a Farnham Butcher. [He says in a newspaper interview that he painted slaughterhouse scenes, but these have not been traced] . He played football for Farnham Town, and ran for the Harriers. An interest in his own physical health and prowess stayed with him throughout most of his life. At weekends he cycled from Surrey back to his home in Kent. Henry later studied at night school and passed exams to be a meat inspector. Apart from his training as a bus driver, which he recalls so humorously in his reminiscences, Stockley on the Buses [Walker,1994] , this was the limit of his formal education. He was, as he often said, a self-taught man. He read with enthusiasm Dickens, Bunyan and George Borrow; and struck up a relationship with Arthur Mee, the compiler of the Children's Encylopaedia, whom he used to meet off the train at Eynsford Station. He had his own small butchers shop in Horton Kirby, Kent, for a short time. When the First World War broke out he was directed into Vickers Armstrong at Dartford and drove ammunition all over the country for the duration of the war. He was married during this period.

Like so many, Stockley was deeply affected by the Great War, never forgetting the friends in the Kent villages who had died. He was against war, and helped his son to avoid military service. The Cenotaph features in a number of his paintings as an exploration of his feelings of loss. After the war he moved to New Cross where he started up a small haulage business, at 80 Vanguard Street: the business failed. Henry always felt himself a little above the ordinary working man, not only because he was an artist. These failed business ventures are indicative of his attempts to move away from being merely a worker. It was after the failure of his business that he applied for work as a bus driver; work was scarce and it was a regular job. He started at Reigate, Surrey and was eventually transferred to Swanley Bus Garage, his base for the rest of his working life on the buses [32 years 11 months, from 1925 to 1957] . The company he worked for was called the East Surrey Bus Co., and later London Transport. He did not enjoy driving buses, hating the long hours, cold, discomfort, eyestrain, poor wages, berating the management and feeling isolated. He drove throughout the Second World War, and recorded what he saw in a series of Blitz paintings [the two that survive, Saving St Pauls and London, are remarkable] . He moved during the War to Oliver Crescent, Farningham.

His children, Helen the younger daughter, and Henry the only son, can remember their father painting from their earliest memories. Henry can remember going to the village to buy his father paint. In a newspaper article Henry himself said in 1932 'I have painted since I was a boy on any odd scraps of paper or canvas I found available'. In addition to paper and canvas he certainly painted on linoleum, old pillow cases, beaverboard, floor boards, ply, brown paper, a Rexine chair cover, and bits of glass, and wall paper. Henry was completely self taught as a painter, in that he never trained at an art school: he regarded this as an advantage, and was pleased he had never learned perspective. His father had however learned the use of gold leaf, singwriting and leaded lights. It is probable he restored these for Farningham Church. Henry learned how to mix oil paints, his favourite medium, from his father. He claimed he had special formulas for his colours. There is therefore a direct link between the 'popular art' of sign writing and Henry's art. The records of the baptisms of the Stockley family in Farningham, going back to 1819, give the profession of the fathers listed there as 'painter' or 'painter and glazier'. In this respect his roots as an artist are in accord with the eighteenth and nineteenth century 'naive' artists James Ayres discusses in his excellent English Naive Painting 1750-1900 [Ayres,1980:15-24] . Some of the paintings are bold and emblematic, some have the rich colours of stained glass: Seen From The Bus uses traces of gold paint subtly to suggest the glamour of evening in London.Henry, his daughter recalls, was very outspoken in his views, and a man of principle, regarded by his children and grandchildren as kind. He was also well known as man with a keen sense of humour. His cartoons and writings demonstrate this vividly.

After his wife's death, Henry's behaviour became increasingly eccentric, and he eventually was admitted to Mabledon, a psychiatric hospital in Dartford where he died in 1982. He was buried in Horton Kirby graveyard, with his wife, the grave marked by a simple inscription.

Henry Stockley - Artist

Stockley's work first attracted public interest when he was exhibited in a one man show by Lucy Wertheim at her Gallery in Burlington Gardens. These paintings were principally concerned with scenes from Pilgrim's Progress; the artist was named as 'Busdriver' Stockley'. Lucy Wertheim, wife of Paul Wertheim Dutch Consul in Manchester, was already interested in naive art, as she called it, and was collecting work by Wallis and Vivin [Hume,1992; Wertheim,1947:26] . Her encounter with Henry Stockley is memorably told in her autobiography, Adventure in Art [Wertheim,1947:37-38] : When I saw the artist stoop down, collect his paintings and begin to roll them into a bundle again ... I went over to the other end of the gallery to have a word with the man himself. He said he was a bus driver who devoted all his spare moments to painting. He had pinched from his wife some old linen pillow slips and ground his own paint and the results were contained in the bundle! ... He told me he had made the round of every gallery in London and could get no one interested in his paintings. He had made a vow the morning he set out to bring his work to me that he would burn everything on his return home if I too turned down his efforts [Wertheim, 1947:37] .

She continued to show Stockley's work at a variety of locations, in London, Sussex, Manchester, at her gallery in Derbyshire. His work was frequently shown alongside Wallis and Christopher Wood, but never sold well. It did however receive some critical acclaim. Alan Clutton-Brock, Art Critic for the Times, reviewed his work very sympathetically in 1932, writing of his use of 'curious and unexpected colours' 'working in harmony to create atmosphere in a landscape', his 'curiously expressive' drawing especially of the human figure, and his originality of invention. The same critic wrote in 1934 of his 'dramatic and highly original forms'. A Daily Sketch writer compared him with Blake, an association that stayed with him for a number of years. A painting, 'Evelyn Laye in Hyde Park' was illustrated in The Listener in that same year [this work is now in the Towner Gallery, Eastbourne, and was last exhibited in a travelling show in 1992] . The press, with exceptions like the Times, and later the Daily Worker, generally treated Stockley's work either as simple-minded or as yet another deplorable example of the stupidity of 'modern art'. Henry was deeply hurt by this hostility, especially a Sunday Times review of 1932 which failed to find any positive qualities and talks of an 'evident lack of technical ability', and 'unsophisticated imaginings'. In 1938 Henry's work was shown at the now famous exhibition of 'Unprofessional Painting' at the Bensham Grove Settlement, Gateshead-On-Tyne alongside the Ashington Group, the 'Pitmen Painters', which attracted the interest of a number of leading left wing intellectuals of the 30s [Feaver,1985:77-79] . Lucy Wertheim contributed seven works by Stockley, 'a Green Line Bus Driver', two by Alfred Wallace [sic] , an 'ex-sailor' and six works by David Burton, 'Pavement Artist'.

In the early 1940s Stockley made the acquaintance of the artist and gallery owner, Jack Bilbo, an event recorded in Bilbo's autobiography:One day a bus full of people stopped in the middle of the street, and the driver, whom I had never seen before, called to me, "Oi there, Jack, I'm a painter too." The passengers had to wait while he made arrangements to show me his paintings, which incidentally were very good. His name, Henry Stockley. He has had many shows at my gallery and sold quite well [Bilbo, 1948] .

Bilbo, at his Modern Art Gallery in King Charles Street, was exhibiting paintings by, for example, Matisse, Renoir, Utrillo, and Bonnard. Bilbo did however find space for a Stockley one man show, although the exhibition had to be delayed:As I am holding a show of Picasso's latest work during August which would rather crowd your paintings, I am postponing your exhibition until September, which, from the point of view of a contemporary artist, is anyhow a better month [Bilbo, letter to Stockley, 13 July,1944] . The show was finally held in November 1944; Stockley's work was hung alongside Picasso and Gaudier-Brzeska. A small number of Stockley's paintings carry the 'modern art gallery' label. Henry always spoke well of Jack Bilbo, who was said to have sold more of his paintings and at a better price than Lucy Wertheim. Lucy was hurt that her 'Christian' had deserted her but the hurt was repaired. She corresponded with Stockley for over thirty years, almost up to her death in 1971, encouraging, advising. She constantly strove to find him more congenial work, to give him a better basis for his painting. A constant theme of the letters is Lucy Wertheim's attempts to meet Stockley, usually in London, to discuss his work, and Henry wriggling out of seeing her. His wife was jealous and Helen, Henry's daughter, acted as go-between.With Bilbo's demise [he was bankrupt, the Halifax repossessed his bungalow and blew up his massive, and awful, sculptures] , Henry, at first reluctantly, exhibited through the London Transport Art Show, and the Royal Academy Summer Show. Very few realised the importance of Stockley's work in the 1950s. The Wertheim connection helped to keep his work out of total obscurity. The last London Exhibition was given at the Duncan Campbell gallery in Kensington, in 1987. In 1988 a considerable body of his work was discovered in his daughter's attic, dusted and hung in a one man show in Gillingham, Kent, in 1989 [Walker, 1989] .

There are a number of possible ways in which to categorise Henry Stockley as a painter: the most obvious categories are naive, or primitive; or possibly as a representative of 'people's art'. The newer category of Outsider Art is only appropriate for his more visionary work. While Henry, as his letters show, was unsympathetic to most contemporary art, he was certainly seen by collectors in the 30s and 40s as a modern artist, even if in a naive mode. Lister and Williams, in their book on British Naive and Primitive Art [1977] regard him as on of the 'rare and much to be treasured' primitives along with Wallis and James Dixon. They write of Stockley's 'primitive enthusiasm' and 'simple naive style' [Lister and Williams,1977:170] . As with so many critics, they were simply unaware of the range and complexity of Stockey's output. Their illustration [Coneys, 1933, as yet untraced] is in dull monochrome: Henry's dazzling and unusual colours are shown in a dusty grey. As the Times critic saw in 1932, the 'bus-driver' label attempted to associate his work with 'Douanier' Rousseau, a naive artist whose work was worthy to be shown alongside great masters. Henry saw himself differently, as a great if unacknowledged artist, a 'new old master'. His letters only passingly mention other artists, [scathing comments on Graham Sutherland coupled with his own wish to design work for Cathedrals] . He was certainly familiar with the National Gallery collection; and some of his work resembles Italian Primitives. He also named one of his houses 'Rembrandt' [a name it still bears] . He must also have been familiar with the artists his patron Lucy Wertheim showed [Wallis, Christopher Wood, Phelan Gibb and Frances Hodgkins for example] and the distinctly 'modern' painters shown by Jack Bilbo in his gallery of Modern Art [a checklist of modern painters, Bilbo,1946] .

His work asks to be taken seriously; he set out to be a great professional painter, not a Sunday painter or amateur. Although there are Stockley characteristics which make all his paintings distinctly his own, he worked in fact in a number of styles. His failure to achieve the success he longed for says more about the nature of British culture than his ability as an artist. His isolation, physical and intellectual, from other artists made him excessively dependent on his patrons, particularly on Lucy Wertheim. He was prepared to tackle ambitious themes, especially in his earlier work, and painted with an extraordinary boldness and freshness of vision. He is a colourist of subtlety and daring and, as the Times critic pointed out, has the power to give ordinary things a symbolic strangeness. His work at its best is both primitive in its directness and energy, and sophisticated in its execution. Although the illustrations to Pilgrims Progress are often crude in execution, they contain his most original imagery. He is little known now because most of his best work was hidden away in attics or in the reserve collections of small museums - or simply lost or destroyed. His art is interesting for its own intrinsic merit, as in the astonishingly accomplished large painting of St Martins in the Fields, Trafalgar Reflections, but also carries historic and documentary interest. His association with his patron, Lucy Wertheim, one of the most significant collectors of the 30s, is especially important in giving a new perspective on the artist/patron relationship. This, together with his championship by Jack Bilbo, secures Stockley a small but unique corner in the history of art in this century. The documentary importance of his work should not be overlooked. His London scenes record, for example, life on the Thames, London Parks, Trafalgar Square, St Martins in the 30s and 40s. His blitz scenes are a vivid, painterly response to historic events.

With no one particularly interested in his work [though it does crop up in the appropriate literature] , his reputation languished. Now is the time to revalue him; quirky, primitive, naive, visionary, sophisticated, but never boring. Like Blake, he records his visions of visions, as in his illustrations to Bunyan or religious paintings; yet he also finds new ways of depicting what he could see or remember, in, for example, his London scenes. He continually produces images that surprise us with their remarkable originality, handling paint with energy and complete absorption in his medium. Stockley is primitive in his directness, and, as the Times critic says, he does not worry over accuracy. But his work is far from simple: the early unsympathetic critics misread his humour and strangeness. There is far more artifice than naivety. The know alls, as he would say, never do know quite enough.

It is crucial to an understanding of Stockley to appreciate the personal as well as historical context in which he produced his remarkable work: his poverty, the almost total lack of leisure, the very long hours of arduous and difficult effort involved in bus driving, particularly in the 30s and during the War, the hostility of most critics, and above all his isolation as an artist in his working world. Other artists appreciated, and appreciate, his paintings, but apart from the encouragement of Lucy Wertheim and Bilbo, and Phelan Gibb, Henry was on his own. {The effort and expense of visiting a London gallery, or seeing Lucy Wertheim, were usually beyond him. He either couldn't afford it, couldn't get time off work, or his wife prevented it}. He was a working man, who lived a bleak life of poverty, particularly in his childhood, who was haunted by the fear of poverty and hunger. He struggled to be a serious professional artist in an environment almost totally against him. His work was produced an act of courage and determination, against despair: and we shouldn't be surprised that in the end the effort was too much for him.

In 1966 he writes to Lucy Wertheim who at the age of eighty, has asked to see him to discuss a Trust and his series of Bunyan Paintings she had first shown in 1932. He was 74:I am what you might call finished - I have no correspondence - I go nowhere except in summer time ... no freedom - no chance to meet anyone outside of family - and now it is bitterly cold here & I am off to bed in the warm if I can keep warm - Form your Trust and forget me ...

There is never any doubt as to the genuiness of a Stockley: all his paintings are signed, usually twice, often boldly on the reverse, 'PAINTED BY HENRY STOCKLEY'. He often incorporates his name or initials into the painting itself so that HSs appear in odd places, hidden in buildings, buses, hedges, railings. Dating his paintings can be more difficult, as later in his life he re-dated some of his work. The earliest pieces he left untouched. He did not always give a date and in these cases I rely on my general knowledge of his style and interests at particular periods. As he made copies of favourite pictures, usually for relatives, this can be unreliable, but overall I am confident in my dating. He was also in the habit, unknown to his patron, of keeping his best paintings 'for the family', and sending Lucy rather hurriedly executed copies. Henry was no fool.

The largest collection of paintings and drawings by Henry Stockley is in private collection, and includes some 90 items along with the little of his writing that has survived. Jimmie Hume, Lucy Wertheim's son in law, transcribed a considerable collection of Henry's letters to his patron, Lucy Wertheim, and these are a key source of information. His work is also held in collections in Eastbourne and Salford, Auckland (New Zealand) and by the London Transport Museum.

HENRY STOCKLEY 1892 - 1982

EXHIBITIONS OF HIS PAINTINGS.

1932 Illustrations to Bunyan's Pilgrims Progress Wertheim Gallery, 3-5 Burlington Gardens W.1. Private View 22 September 1932 Catalogue.

1934 Naive Paintings by Christopher Wood, Busdriver Stockley and others. Wertheim Gallery, 3-5 Burlington Gardens W.1. Private View 4 April 1934 No Catalogue.

1935 Modern Primitives Wertheim Gallery, 3-5 Burlington Gardens W.1. Illustration in Listener, 13 November 1935. No Catalogue.

1936 Ten English Painters Wertheim Gallery, 8 Burlington Gardens W.1. PV Card in Adventure p.64. Private View.

1937 45 Paintings by 10 Modern Artists from the Wertheim Gallery Altrincham Public Libraries, Museum and Art Galleries Spring 1937 Catalogue {photocopy}

1938 Twelve Free-Thinkers in Paintings Wertheim Gallery, 8 Burlington Gardens W.1. Review in Daily Sketch 11 February 1938 & Private view card in Adventure p.64 The Kill, and Trafalgar Square.

An Exhibition of Paintings by Unprofessional Painters Bensham Grove Settlement, Gateshead October 8-22 1938 William Feaver Pitmen Painters [1989] p.76-77. Catalogue {photocopy} The Park, Flatters Nets, The Return, Christian and the Lions, Hyde Park, St Martins in the Fields, King George the Fifth.

1939 Paintings for Children Wertheim Gallery, 8 Burlington Gardens W.1. Review in Daily Sketch, 19 April 1939 20 'illustrations in oil from Bunyan's Pilgrims Progress'.

1941 Exhibition at Mosley Street, Manchester Midday Studio, 96 Mosley Street, Manchester Article in Kentish Times, 5 December 1941.

1942 Paintings of Boats [Sometimes Incidental] Midday Studio, 96 Mosley Street, Manchester 5 February 1942 Including painting by Wood, Gibb, Vivin. 1942 Selection of Modern Paintings from the Wertheim Collection Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston 9 November - 19 December Catalogue Including Wood, Matthew Smith.

1944 November Exhibition 1944 Masterpieces by Great Masters, Van Gogh, Picasso, Renoir and Paintings by Dennis Harrington and Henry Stockley the modern art gallery ltd 24 Charles 11 Street Haymarket S.W.1. Private view card; letter from Jack Bilbo.

Our Friend the Horse Midday Studio, 96 Mosley Street, Manchester Review in Manchester Guardian 14 July 1944 Private view card including works by Wood, Vivin.

English Countryside Midday Studio, 96 Mosley Street, Manchester Kentish Times cutting, undated.

1946 Exhibition of Contemporary British Art Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool, County Borough of Bolton Art Gallery Catalogue July to September 1946 & 21 October to 16 November 1946 Eynsford [Winter] .

1947 Examples of work from Mrs Wertheim's Collection St George's Gallery 81 Grosvenor Street W.1. Catalogue 10 February to 4 March 1947 including works by Wallis, Wood, Hodgkins, Vivin.

1948 London Transport Second Annual Exhibition 55 Broadway S.W.1. 30 October 1948 Catalogue and pv card Farningham Church; West Kent Hounds Eynsford; Picadilly; Southend [Night] (watercolour).

1949 London Transport Third Annual Exhibition 55 Broadway s.W.1. Catalogue [incomplete] Bus in Snow nr. Eynsford; London Walks - No Basic; London Bridge, Fairground Blackheath; Hounds and Hunters at the Kill.

1950 London Transport Fourth Annual Exhibition Exhibition Hall Charing Cross Station 4 November 1950 pv card

1952 London Transport Fifth Annual Exhibition Exhibition Hall Charing Cross Station 22 November to 13 December 1952 Catalogue Lambeth Bridge [Night] ; Epsom Derby; London Street Scene; The Wellington High Tide; Sparrow Hawk; Off Gravesend.

1952 {circa} Exhibition of Modern Paintings The Old Tithe Barn, Ashford-in-the-Water Private View card including works by Wood, Wallis, Gibb.

1953 London Transport Seventh Annual Exhibition Exhibition Hall Charing Cross Station 28 November to 19 December 1953 Catalogue Farningham Kent; 'I never'; Eynsford Kent.

1954 London Transport Eight Annual Exhibition Exhibition Hall Charing Cross Station 13 November to 4 December 1954 On Royston Heath; London Embankment; Blackwall; In the Woods; This England.

1962 Naive Paintings Art Today Gallery; 3 New Road, Shoreham by Sea from 16 June 1962 with Wallis, Wood, Vivin, Ilse, and Burton p.v. card

1987 Lucy Wertheim Collection Duncan Campbell Fine Art 15 Thackeray Street W.8. 3 November to 23 December 1987 Catalogue {photocopy} 13 works by H.S., plus Gibb, Suddaby, Racoczi.

1989 An Exhibition of Naive Paintings by 'Busdriver' Stockley Space Frame Gallery Green Street Gillingham Kent October 1989 Catalogue with introduction; 36 items.

1991/2 adventure in art Modern British art under the patronage of Lucy Wertheim Salford Museum and Art Gallery, Towner Art Gallery and Museum, Dudley Museum and Art Gallery Catalogue Evelyn Laye in Hyde Park

1996/7 Henry Stockley: Bus Driver and Artist London Transport Museum, Ashfield Gallery Covent Garden, London descriptive panels [no Catalogue] July 19, 1996 to March 1997. 20 paintings, photographs and memorabilia.

Bibliography

* Ayres, James, [1980] English Naive Painting 1750-1900, Thames and Hudson, London.
* Bilbo,Jack [1948] Paintings and Drawings by Jack Bilbo, The Modern Art Gallery, London.
* Bilbo,Jack [1948] Jack Bilbo, An Autobiography, The Modern Art Gallery, London.
* Bihalji-Merin, Oto and Tomasevic, N. [1984] World Encylopaedia of Naive Art, Frederick Muller, London
* Cooper, Emmanuel [1994] People's Art, Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh.
* England & Co. [1990] Jack Bilbo and the Moderns, England & Co. London.
* Farr, Dennis [1978] English Art 1870 - 1940, OUP, Oxford.
* Feaver, William, [1985] Pitmen Painters, Chatto and Windus, London.
* Gale, Matthew [1998] Alfred Wallis, Tate Gallery Publishing, London.
* Hume, Jimmie [1992] Introduction, in adventure in art: Modern British Art under the Patronage of Lucy Wertheim, Salford Museum and Towner Art Gallery.
* Ingleby, Richard [1995] Christopher Wood, Alison and Busby, London.
* "Listener", 13 November, 1935, p 62.
* Lister, Eric and Williams, Sheldon, [1977] "20th Century British Naive and Primitive Painters", Astragan Books, London.
* Maizels, John [from 1989] Raw Vision, a Journal.
* Norman, Geraldine [1993] Brut Force, in "Independent on Sunday", 30 May, 1993: 18-21.
* Trevelyan, Julian [1957] Indigo Days, McGibbon and Kee, London.
* Walker, John (ed) [1994] Stockley on the Buses, Ed Street, Longfield.
* Walker, John [1989] Busdriver Stockley, Space Frame Gallery, Gillingham.
* Walker, John [1996] Of my Own Free Will. Henry Stockley: the Unknown Primitive, Raw Vision. No 15 Summer 1996:26/27.
* Wertheim, Lucy [1947] Adventure in Art, Nicholson and Watson, London.
* Wertheim, Lucy [ed] , [1934] Phoebus Calling, Spring Number.

External links

* [http://www.henrystockley.net/ Profile of primitive artist Henry Stockley]


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