Among young artists spotted by Ruth in their student days were Mario Dubsky, Peter Phillips and Patrick Procktor, along with Anthony Eyton, Anthony Green, Ken Howard, David Tindle and others relatively early in their careers. As her collection, and her confidence, grew she approached artists at the height of their careers. Some declined to participate, but many, such as Michael Ayrton, Roger Hilton, Feliks Topolski and Keith Vaughan, co-operated.
The collection shows a wide variety of artistic influences, including Camden Town, Expressionism, the Euston Road School, Art School Academicism, Kitchen Sink School, Art Brut, Scottish Colourism and Continental Existentialism. There are also many traces of teaching by influential, often charismatic figures in the British art scene of the 1950s, such as William Coldstream, David Bomberg, John Minton, Carel Weight, Ruskin Spear, Keith Vaughan and Robert Buhler.
Ruth Borchard’s collection offers a particular insight into the influence of the painter David Bomberg on a group of followers and pupils, including Mario Dubsky, Dennis Creffield, Andrew Forge, Cliff Holden, Dorothy Mead, and Patrick Procktor. Their self-portraits share a sublime intensity rare in a period whose art is sometimes characterised by an anaemic, academic air, yet Mario Dubsky described Bomberg in the mid 50s as an entirely unknown, uncelebrated and isolated figure.
The collection is full of revelations about once relatively obscure artists who have gone on to become critically appreciated, and about artists of stature who have been unfairly neglected, such as the Glaswegian colourist Sinclair Thomson and a master self-portraitist, Nathaniel Davies.
Only five of the hundred self-portraits are by women, yet their presence is strongly felt. Ruth did approach other female artists or self-portraits but none felt able to help. There is a wry, brusque note from Jean Cooke (signed Jean Bratby, then her married name) to Ruth, in which the artist agrees to receive a much lower price for her work than would normally be the case:
‘I am not a feminist but to have only 3 women painters out of 91[the tally to date] makes rather poor odds so 21 gns it is. Are you going to come and pick up the painting?’
The self-portraits by female artists – Ithell Colquhoun, Anne Redpath, Dorothy Mead, Jean Cooke and Lucinda Mackay – span more than five decades. Each comes across as self-assured, independent and original-minded, just as Ruth Borchard did in her writings, in person and as creator of this unique collection.Next