[ Derek Middleton (1917-1983), English 'Tachiste' Abstract Impressionist painter. ] Collection of material including his unpublished autobiography 'How To Be An Artist', familhy photographs, autograph inventory of paintings and 'Weekly Accounts'.

Derek Middleton (1917-1983), English 'Tachiste' Abstract Impressionist painter [ Colin Burton Stewart; Victoria Russell; Moritz Heymann; Franz Baum; Montgomery of Alamein; Intelligence Corps ]
Publication details: 
London, Paris and other locations. Between 1945 and 1995.
SKU: 20468

There has been a recent resurgence of interest in the work of the English 'Tachiste' artist Derek Middleton (full name Derek Osborne Middleton), but the fact that he lived in France from 1958 to his death in 1983 has restricted the English-language source material relating to the artist, even leading to his date of death being given incorrectly as 2002. Shortly after his death Middleton's lover Verity Russell wrote a short biography of him, which is a useful source of information: 'Derek Middleton, who has died in Paris after a short illness, was an important figure in the abstract impressionist movement of the 1960s. Born in Shanghai in 1917, Middleton studied art in Munich, Florence and Dusseldorf. After serving in military intelligence in World War II, mostly in Iraq, Middleton settled in London, his work being hung at the Royal Academy in 1953 and 1954. In 1957, he had his first one-man show, at the New Vision; in each of the following three years, he was given one-man shows at the Redfern. | Middleton went to live in Paris in 1958. Change of country and cultural stimulus helped to change his vision and to expand his artistic range. Whereas his earlier works had retained some elements of representation, his later ones were almost purely abstract. And, increasingly, he became fascinated by the texture of wood, producing sculptures and reliefs notable for their bold design and fine craftsmanship. Examples of Middleton's work are in the British Museum, the Liverpool and Manchester municipal art galleries, the Museum of Modern art Cleveland, Ohio; City Hall, Quebec; and in many private collections in Europe and the United States. The Society of Friends of Museums in Israel presented one of his works to the Israeli government. | […]' (For information about Middleton's early years as the self-styled 'poor man's Degas', see the newspaper article quoted in Section Five below.) The present collection of material derives from the papers of Middleton's nephew Colin Burton Stewart, and includes a copy of his unpublished memoir of his early life 'How To Be An Artist'; original family photographs; a detailed inventory by him of his paintings between 1956 and 1982; his autograph 'Weekly Accounts', 1945 to 1951; original silkscreen prints (one signed) and reproductions of his work; over a hundred photographs of his work, in two folders, with detailed annotation for a sale following his death; a collection of his unpublished poetry; various CVs, produced both during his lifetime and after his death, with a detailed 'List of Buyers'; publications including gallery programmes and invitations; and a miscellaneous collection of related correspondence and other material. The collection is in good overall condition, with light signs of age and wear. The following description is divided into fourteen sections. Middleton is referred to as DOM throughout. ONE: Typescript of DOM's unpublished autobiography, titled 'HOW TO BECOME AN ARTIST'. 105pp., 8vo. On 105 loose leaves, in blue card folder with manuscript labels with title 'AUTOBIOGRAPHY'. A typescript made by a second party (presumably DOM's partner Verity Russell), with gaps for doubtful readings, and a few manuscript corrections in pencil. Section headings read: p.21: 'Fecamp'; p.23: 'La Touraine'; p.26: 'Munich'; p.44: 'Florence'; p.50: 'England'; p.55: 'The Pub'; p.58: 'The Army'; p.68: 'Winchester'; p.91: 'Abdul the Spy'; p.100: 'England'; p.102: 'Germany'. A well-written memoir, in an assured, urbane and restrained style. The account begins with a description of DOM's privileged childhood 'in the French Concession in Shanghai': 'My father had a black limousine which had a horn in the shape of a silver dragon which ran along the side of the car and breathed “fire” from the top of the mudguard. | My father had his own firm called Middleton & Co. which dealt principally with textiles. One day he took me to his office which overlooked the Bund. There were rubber children's toys and bales of cloth lying about on the floor. I asked my father how one made money. “Buy cheap and sell dear my boy”, he said. So the next day I went to a Chinese shop and bought some fish. I brought it home and made the unfortunate servants cook it and pay me a copper each to eat it.' Next he describes his schooling in England, beginning with a prep school at which he excels at 'games and boxing'. In the holidays he attends a 'crammers' in a rectory in Northampton, with a 'strange old man' living nearby, 'in an old house all on his own. He showed us photographs of naked young men who were tied up and being beaten. We found this odd but thought no more about it, “we” being the five or six other boys also staying at the crammers'. He goes to Malvern College, where his singing abilities result in him making several records ('I was billed as “The Boy with the Heaven sent Voice” and my photograph appeared in the HMV catalogue'). 'I was also offered a chance by C. B. Cochran to sing in a show called “The Miracle” in which he needed a choir boy, but my mother said I must go to school.' In 1932, when he is fifteen, his father joins the family from China, and they take a flat in Duke Street, St James's, then 'a house in Dorking and then later another in Callander in Scotland. I imagined we must be rather rich, but Maisie, my elder sister attributed our affluence to the fact of our having won the Spring races in Shanghai, the most important annual sporting event'. (Elsewhere he states that his two sisters 'moved in a determinedly upper class English world in which I had no particular interest'.) After Malvern he attends another 'crammers' ('a large rambling country house sort of place in the flat country near Canterbury') in order to prepare for his School Certificate. In summer of 1934 his family travel to France, first to the Normandy fishing port of Fécamp, and then to a chateau in Touraine, where his 'attractive French teacher […] tried to help me in a more practical manner, and to my great surprise, appeared in my room one evening in a dressing gown with nothing on underneath but I regret to say that I was as yet too young and inexperienced to do much about it. She did teach me one thing however, and that was that one should always remember that a woman is like a bus and a man is like a train, and that if you want both of them to arrive at the same spot, at the same time, the bus must start first'. From France they journey to Munich, where they first lodge with an Austrian count and his family, his wife being a Nazi sympathiser. He begins to attend art college for the first time, studying under Moritz Heymann (1870-1937): 'On the first day I was put in the front row. The model was a large dark girl with a lot of black pubic hair. Not knowing how to draw I started with this in black chalk, developing it vigorously until an enormous black triangle practically filled the whole page. Drawing a line around it to indicate the body I sat back satisfied. Our teacher, Professor Heymann, tapped me on the shoulder. He contemplated my masterpiece in silence for a while and then said, “Herr Middleton, you must learn not to concentrate on one point but to see the body as a whole”.' At Heymann's school he befriends the artists Jonathan Scott (1914-1995) and John Weatherby. He describes how on two occasions he sees Hitler 'at close quarters', on the first occasion while walking on the Ludwigstrasse, and on the second on Hitler's leaving 'the newly built “House of German Art”'. He describes his friendship with the Jewish artists Franz Baum (1888-1982) and Hans Richter. Back in England he reads a nook on Nijinsky and decides to become a dancer, but is soon disabused of the notion. He returns to Germany to continue his studies, and learns that Heymann has committed suicide after being deprived of his school ('The Nazis replaced him with an enthusiastic young “Aryan” who thought he drew like Durer.'). He describes the circumstances behind his being challenged to a duel by one of Hitler's SS bodyguards. After learning of a pseudo-mystical speech of Hitler's in Bavaria he decides to 'go to Florence where my friend Jonathan Scott had already gone. It was just exchanging one dictator for another but at least it was a change.' He describes his friendship with an artist's model named 'Bruno', who was working 'in a sculptor's studio next to Jonathan Scott's', and the frictions between the Italian Fascists and German Nazis in Florence. He returns to England, where he stays with a sister in Redhill, and, down on his luck, attempts to 'join the R.A.F. as a pilot, the Navy as an Able Seaman, the Daily Herald and the Daily Express as a reporter, and the theatrical world as a tap-dancer'. Unsuccessful, he is reduced to working as a door-to-door salesman, and then a barman in a country pub. When war is declared he goes to the recruiting office in Kingston, and signs up to the Royal Artillery, and then to the Intelligence Corps. On reporting to Mytchett Barracks in Aldershot he is reprimanded and made to abide by his first choice, becoming a gunner signaller in the Royal Artillery. After a brief stint, he reapplies to the Intelligence Corps and is 'again accepted, this time for good'. He is sent for training at Winchester, where he befriends George Errington MacGregor, 'a former Times correspondent, who had been to Eton and Oxford', who 'fiercely resented being a private and seemed to have declared war on all those put in authority over him'. A liaison with 'a very nice A.T.S. girl' while on leave in London results in DOM being disowned by his sister. A description of DOM's service in the Persian Gulf and in Syria follows, including a transcript of an obscene poem by 'the D.A.P.M., a Major Atkinson'. At the end of the memoir he returns to England, where he briefly works at the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson's, before travelling to Germany, where he conducts 'Denazification' in Dusseldorf, and serves as bodyguard to Field Marshall Montgomery. TWO: Autograph inventory ('Record of Work') by DOM of his paintings, 1956-1982, with entries continued in another hand (that of Verity Russell?) to 1995. 31pp., 8vo, in a ruled exercise book. DOM begins his record in an orderly manner over the first four pages, with columns giving the 'Size', 'Date', 'Description', 'Whereabouts' and 'Price' of 163 works, and continues in similar vein with a page headed 'Exhibition 1967 St Paul de Vence', and another two pages taking the record of sales to the end of 1964. Thereafter the entries generally only give the date, title and price, with the exception of a section found towards the centre of the volume, which presents in a similarly-disciplined fashion, a 'List of Watercolours', with entries for 197 works over five pages. THREE: Autograph 'Weekly Accounts' by DOM, 1945 to 1951. Four 8vo volumes of itemised accounts, covering the period between July 1945 and April 1951 (vol.1, July 1945 to April 1946, 80pp.; vol.2, April 1946 to April 1948, 194pp.; vol.3, April 1948 to May 1949, 108pp.; vol.4, May 1949 to April 1951, 210pp.). In four ruled 'Analysis Books' (various publishers, including ones in the 'Denbigh', 'Cathedral' and 'Challenge' series). Double-page layouts on ruled pages throughout the four volumes. The layouts until the middle of vol.2 are arranged in either fifteen or sixteen columns, under varied selections of the following headings: Date; Particulars; Receipts; Board & Lodging; Rent & Breakfast; Food; Clothes; Cigarettes; Fares; Sundries; Household; Medical; Beauty & Chemist; Doctor & Dentist; Loan Losses & bad debts; Amusements; Laundry & cleaners; Repairs; Payments. The column names change beginning with a double-page spread in the middle of vol.2 headed 'Weekly Expenses from Date of Arrival Blue Waters (Feb 4 – 9 [1947])' to selections of the following: Date; Particulars; Receipts; Baker; Dairy; Butcher; Grocer; Greengrocer; Fishmonger; Cigarettes [Tobacco]; Household Sundries [Wages]; Coal & Electricity [Tax Electricity Fuel]; Laundry; Telephone; Drink; Garden; Personal [Self]. In August of 1947 a column for 'Baby' appears, including an early 'Baby & Car', which by the end of 1948 is changed to 'Colin'. The column of 'Particulars' gives details of expenditure, mainly concerning foodstuffs ('Fish cakes & kippers', 'Rabbit', 'Paprika', 'Baby foods', 'Golden syrup', 'Baked beans', '6 Ginger beers'), but also such items as taxi fares, laundry, cigarettes, flowers, toilet paper, telephone calls, shoe laces, 'Rations & stores', 'soap flakes', stamps, gas, newspapers, raffle tickets, knitting needles, 'Toy (steamroller)', 'Brass curtain rail & rings', 'Lipstick & Powder'. FOUR: Five original silkscreen prints of coloured abstract illustrations by DOM, including one illustration in two states, both signed by DOM in pencil 'Middleton – 64 [i.e. 1964]'. All four illustrations are laid down on cards (the one in two states has one of the two loosely inserted inside the card), and the three cards with unsigned illustrated are annotated with dates 1960, 1961 and 1968, each containing autograph Christmas messages signed by DOM on behalf of himself and Verity Russell. A fifth card carries a reproduction of a DOM abstract, dated to 1961. With three photographic prints of DOM abstracts, one in colour. Also present is a photographic print of a drawing of a wine bottle, glass and bowl of fruit, dated 1969, with an autograph Christmas message from DOM on the reverse. FIVE: Four small black and white reproductions of drawings by DOM of girls' heads, all dated 1954, with a larger black and white print of a drawing of a ballet dancer, and a photograph of DOM, hands in pockets, looking at a group of his illustrations of dancers. Accompanying these items is a typed transcript of an article titled 'The Poor Man's Degas', headed 'Extract from Kensington local paper. November 1953', casting light on DOM's early period: 'Do you remember the days when Master Ernest Lough took the country by storm as the famous boy-soprano? Well, about the same time as Master Lough, but not so well-known, was boy soprano No. 2 – Master Derek Middleton. | Twenty years later that same Derek Middleton turns up in Notting Hill as an artist, holding a one-man exhibition at the Kensington Art Gallery, and is such a success that the “Sketch” borrows one of his pictures for reproduction in its next issue. Between the 'thirties and the 'fifties, Derek had a chequered career, in which he tried his hand at most things in turn. He was always fond of drawing – too fond at times, in fact, for on several occasions when he was stage manager in a theatre he found himself idly drawing on part of the wings or the backcloth, blissfully oblivious of the requirements of the play […] | At the moment he is working in an attic studio above the Rowley Galleries in Kensington High Street, and spends most of his time drawing and painting ballet dancers. Ballet dancers, and indeed all backstage subjects have always fascinated him, and he calls himself “the poor man's Degas”. […]' Also present is a newspaper cutting from 'The Sketch', 21 October 1953, of an illustration captioned: 'BALLERINA. By Derek Middleton. (12 gns.) | Kensington Art Gallery.' Also present is a small black and white photograph of a bedroom, captioned on reverse: 'Blue Waters | Itchenor [near Chichester] | photo by estate agents?' (The account books indicate that DOM lived at Blue Waters in 1947.) SIX: 73 colour prints of photographs of abstract paintings by DOM, laid down on 28 leaves of an 8vo ring-bound notebook with red covers. Each print is captioned in manuscript with a reference number, and some with the dimensions given (one reading '5 aquarelles sur bois de 0.09 m x 0.12 m.'), At the front of the volume is a typed page headed 'Oeuvres de Mr Derek Middleton faisant l'objet d'un contrat de “Promesse de vente” entre Mme Verity Russel [sic] et Mme et Mr Herve Guimard', listing by title (with dimensions and price in Francs) 44 works by DOM (34 'Huiles sur toile', four 'Encres sur chine', one under 'Pastels, four 'Aquarelles', two 'Sculptures et bois graves'). The first item is 'A | Noir et Blanc | 1,30 X 0,95 m | 17 500 F'. The 44 works total 1,163,500 Francs. SEVEN: 34 colour prints of photographs of abstract paintings by DOM, laid down on 17 leaves of an 8vo ring-bound notebook with yellow covers. Beneath each print in the notebook are the signatures of three individuals: one is DOM's 'companion' Verity Russell, the first of the other two signatories ('') gives the dimensions of the piece, and the second (a three word signature) gives a short description of the colouring in French. Some pages have 'CBS' at the head, and one has 'Francis ' EIGHT: Duplicated pages carrying 23 typed poems by DOM (some with 'D. M.' at end and a few with 'D. O. Middleton'). On 21pp., with a further two full-page copies of the manuscripts of two of the poems ('Hard red, the lightning falls' and 'A poem about nothing'), indicating that the typed transcriptions are not by DOM himself. NINE: Fifteen original prints of photographs of the Middleton family, many on the photographers' original card mounts. These include: one of DOM as a young boy, dressed as a harlequin, with one of his sisters; two of DOM's father W. B. O. Middleton (one with a duplicate); one of DOM's sisters Maisie and Joyce as young girls; one of his sister Maisie as an infant, and another of her as a young woman; two copies of one of DOM's maternal grandfather 'Matthew Harris | Delia Middleton's Father'; two of DOM as a boy, another as an adolescent and another as a man; one of 'Nobby Clarke | Joyce | Maisie | Bittersweet'; one of 'Miss Joyce Middleton', with manuscript details on reverse of her acting career; two of 'Colin [Burton Stewart]'. TEN: Green paper folder with 'Curriculum Vitae' in manuscript on cover, containing several drafts, with copies, of DOM's typescript CV, composed both during his lifetime and posthumously, mostly in French: one headed 'Traduction'. The folder also contains a typescript of a short biography (1p., 8vo) by Verity Russell titled 'Middleton' ('an important figure in the abstract impressionist movement of the 1960s'), and an English posthumous CV (2pp., 8vo) of 'Derek Osborne Middleton | 1917-1983', including lists of 'One Man shows', 'Group shows', 'Pictures bought by', 'Bibliography' and 'Extracts from some critical articles'. The introduction reads: 'Born in Shanghai, China, of British parents, Middleton was educated in England then travelled to Europe with the object of learning languages to become a diplomat. After spending time in France, he moved to Germany where he was persuaded to join art classes in Munich. The direction of his career was changed through his studies first in Munich, then Florence and, after the war in Dusseldorf. Later he lived and painted in London until finally settling in Paris in 1958. | Working as a figurative painter for several years, he turned towards abstract painting around 1955 and was first shown by the Redfern Gallery, London, in 1956.' Also present are typescript 'Notes on Middleton', in French (3pp., 8vo). ELEVEN: 'List of buyers', 1956-1992. Typewritten with extensive manuscript emendations and additions (amounting to more than half of the document). 6pp., 8vo. Giving dates, names, addresses, titles of paintings, working backwards chronologically. TWELVE: Buff card folder, with 'D. O. M.' in manuscript on front cover, containing miscellaneous items including: a copy of DOM's will (referring to Verity Russell as 'my friend' and 'Colin Burton Stewart of Tigh Bhaan Appin Argyll' as 'my nephew'); a copy of a letter from Stewart to Russell; a letter to a solicitor on the estate by Stewart (referring to DOM as 'my uncle'), with the reply, both from 1983; autograph notes by Stewart regarding the estate; a few items of posthumous correspondence by Colin Burton Stewart relating to the estates of DOM and Russell; a copy of a printed card in French announcing DOM's death; various correspondence, bills and receipts relating to the sale of DOM's paintings after his death. Also present is a typed page, in French, discussing DOM and his work, on the occasion of the show 'Comparaisons' in March [year?] at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la ville de Paris. The article is written by a friend, the author referring to 'mon ami Middy'. With a copy of the Royal Academy Exhibition Catalogue for 1950, including 'Middleton, D. O., 67 Kensington Gardens-square, Bayswater, W.2 – 746'. THIRTEEN: Nine publications relating to DOM by various galleries. Two Redfern Gallery programmes featuring DOM's work: the first for a solo show in 1960; the second for an undated show with Richard Eurich and Maurice Utrillo. With five invitations to shows featuring DOM's work (Redfern Gallery, New Vision Centre Gallery, Parsons Gallery, Galerie Maywald). One of the invitations features a signed autograph invitation from 'Derek'. Also present are a typed 'Price List of Paintings by Derek Middleton', New Vision Centre Gallery, March 1958; and an extract from a Redfern Gallery catalogue, featuring reproductions of DOM's paintings. FOURTEEN. Three publications featuring DOM. First, French magazine 'Chefs-d'oeuvre de l'art' (Hachette, no.106, 1965), featuring a short article on 'Middleton', with photograph. Second, French exhibition catalogue 'XXXIIe Salon Art Sacré XIIe Salon Art et Matière' (Paris, 1984), featuring a full-page article by Frank Elgar titled 'Hommage a Derek Middleton 1915 [sic] + 1983 Peintre et sculpteur'. Third, French exhibition catalogue 'XXXe Salon Art Sacre Xe Art et Matiere Expression Spirituelle' (Paris, 1982), featuring a work by DOM, with photograph.