[John Bromfield Gay Rees, Welsh Artist] The Correspondence of John Bromfield Gay Rees, Welsh Artist. An archive..

[John Bromfield Gay Rees, Welsh Artist.
Publication details: 
SKU: 23342

John Bromfield Gay Rees (1912 - 1965), known to his family and friends as Brom, was a Welsh painter whose work was admired by such eminent figures as Dylan Thomas, Augustus John, William Rothenstein and Eardley Knollys, among others. Introspective and private, he was practically unknown to the general public during his lifetime, and the first major exhibition devoted solely to his work was in 1989. Born in Llanelli in South Wales, Gay Rees showed an early talent for art; in 1926, aged fourteen, he was sent to the local School of Art and Craft, where he caught the attention of the headmaster D.E.H. Pratt. Under Pratt's guidance, Gay Rees honed his skills as an artist, and in 1930 he enrolled in the Royal Academy Schools in London. The young painter flourished in his new surroundings, striking up friendships with Alfred Janes and William Scott, and he gained a reputation for his quick intellect and gregarious nature. In 1935, however, he suffered internal haemorrhaging, which consequently brought on a severe nervous disorder and caused the young artist to become increasingly withdrawn and irritable. Gay Rees had been considered one of the most promising artists on the London scene in the 1930s, but his accident meant he could not return to the Royal Academy Schools - despite his best efforts. Though often invited to exhibit his work thereafter, he would almost always reply with the words I am not ready yet, and he soon slipped into relative obscurity. He continued to paint for most of the rest of his life, during which he lived in Wales, Bristol and London, but though he was admired and approached to exhibit, he was intransigent in his perfectionism, and as a result he never achieved the renown that he was surely due.There are 171 autograph letters in this collection, written between 1930 and 1965; these are accompanied by between 20 or so notes, jottings and other items, such as exhibition catalogues, photographs and tickets. Many of the letters are written to Gay Rees, but a not insignificant number are written by him. In a few cases, he is neither the recipient nor the sender, and most of these letters are written to his brother Terry or his sister Beryl.Total number of letters: 171 including:Gay-Rees to Jack Wood Palmer: 12Palmer to Gay-Rees: 21 (+2 from his secretary)Gay-Rees to Suzy Eras: 33One interesting group of letters, from 1942, finds Gay Rees writing regularly to his then girlfriend, Suzy Eras. They offer a fascinating insight into his thoughts on literature, aesthetics, and other more esoteric subjects. At various point he expounds the virtues of writers such as D.H. Lawrence, T.S. Eliot and Aldous Huxley, discusses Christian eschatology and St. Augustine and waxes lyrical about Fra' Filippo Lippi and Bach. He also finds time to discuss his own work, how it is developing at its own pace and how he feels no pressure to exhibit.Those letters that refer directly to Gay Rees' art form the bulk of the correspondence, and it is probably fair to say that the most significant letters fall into this category. It makes sense to begin with those that relate to the local art scene in Wales, where Gay Rees grew up. Though they are not many in number, they offer a fascinating insight into the local Welsh artistic community in and around the 1930s. In amongst these early letters is a copy of the Swansea Art Society catalogue from the 35th annual exhibition, held at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, which includes his painting, 'Industrial Landscape'. Another set of letters sheds light on Gay Rees' time in the London scene and his friendship with Felicity Arnold, a young woman who ran a picture library-cum-gallery from her flat in the capital, and who offered to display his work. She writes to him in the period of his convalescence after his haemorrhage, and in it mentions the names 'Eade' and 'Scott', most likely referring to the painters Edward Eade and William Scott. There is also a letter to Gay Rees that is signed only 'William', and given his close friendship with the aforementioned painter, it seems likely that these men are one and the same. It is, however, not possible to say for sure.Perhaps the most illuminating letters are those written to Gay Rees by a certain Jack Wood Palmer. He was the Assistant Director of the Western Region of the Arts Council, and he met Gay Rees while he was living in Bristol and going through a barren period regarding his output. Palmer immediately saw the painter's talent and set about trying to rekindle his enthusiasm. The letters in this correspondence demonstrate the effort Palmer puts into this endeavour; he is constantly writing to Gay Rees and organising for him to exhibit his work. He also displays an almost unbelievable level of patience, since Gay Rees is forever rejecting approaches from galleries or pulling out of things that he has previously agreed to. Palmer's belief in Gay Rees and his frustration with him are palpable: I feel very strongly at the moment that your work is being wasted, and that the time has come when you should pull yourself together and do a little uncongenial constructional work so that your painting can be made known to what is bound to be an appreciative public. Palmer's letters also show that even though Gay Rees is at this point no longer a going concern in the trendy London art scene, the quality of his work continues to impress eminent figures. In one missive Palmer quotes a letter he has received from the art critic and member of the Bloomsbury Group Eardley Knollys: Reflecting on our visit to Bromfield Rees…what I liked so greatly were about a dozen of the water colours: not so much the David Jonesey ones as those free and open luminous landscapes and still lives. Another letter that illustrates Gay Rees' enduring appeal comes directly to him from Lawrence Ogilvie. The UK's leading plant pathologist from the 1930s-1960s, Ogilvie was also a keen collector of modern art and a member of the founding committee of Bristol's 'Arnolfini Gallery'. In a letter to Gay Rees from 1950, he explains that he would like him to put some works forward for the Exhibition of Contemporary Art, which is being arranged for the Festival of Britain. There are also letters from Gustave Delbanco of the 'Roland, Browse & Delbanco Gallery' in London, the curator of City Museum and Art Gallery in Plymouth and Gilbert Phelps, a producer at the BBC who is interested in getting Gay Rees involved in programme called 'Arts Chronicle'.There are two letters that do not fit neatly into any categories but are of immense interest, namely those written by the painter Edward Eade to Gay Rees' brother, Terry. In them, he laments his lack of success with women, and seems to scorn Terry that he does not suffer the same difficulties: You have much more outward control than I have, but I believe I have more inward control. Because of this inward control do not imagine that I am sterile - I control my sex feelings more than you do. Elsewhere, he pontificates on topics such as art and literature, while also musing on his own work: It seems to me, that in a way, you are an escapist with women - I with painting. He also hints in this letter at a topic that dominates the second one, namely his growing dislike of Gay Rees: I feel there is a callousness about mankind, which one finds in the best of one's friends. I find it in Brom. From this quote, it is clear that the two men are friends, even if Eade harbours doubts. However, by the time he writes the second letter, any amicable feelings have dissipated: Your brother [Brom] badly let me down. I consider him at present [...] an extremely undesirable species of worm. This collection of letters offers a fascinating insight into the life and career of John Bromfield Gay Rees, described by Ronald Anderson as 'the artist without an audience', and ultimately gives a nuanced picture of a man who painted on his own terms, and no one else's. Note: Letters from Mervyn Levy, Welsh artist of some distinction, and George Hooper are currently listed on my inventory separately, but would be included if this archive is purchased.