There are two letters, dated 1966, from Raymond Coxon to Ruth Borchard, from the Mill Studio at Rowfant in Sussex. He and his wife, the painter Edna Ginesi divided their time between the idyllic Mill Studio and a home in west London. The first reads:
‘What a good and original idea. When I look at my face in the mirror I never feel like rushing for my paint box, in the evening the ravages of continued life… give me no pleasure. Yet somewhere in Hammersmith there lies a really [word illegible, possibly ‘good’] self sketch done when a student sucking a pipe with life-like raw lines and (after growing a large beard) a close crop.’
Coxon’s self-portrait (1921), the earliest picture in the Borchard Collection, was painted in the year that Coxon went to study at the Royal College of Art, under its new principal John Rothenstein. Coxon had become a close friend of Henry Moore’s at Leeds College of Art, where he studied from 1919-21. From 1921-5, he attended the Royal College, alongside Moore, Ginesi, Barbara Hepworth, Edward Bawden, Eric Ravilious, Vivian Pitchforth, Douglas Percy Bliss and Barnett Freedman.
Born in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent in 1896, Coxon was around twenty-five when he painted his self-portrait. It looks now a period piece, delightfully so: the handsome, fair-headed, pink-faced, serious young man sucking on his pipe through full, heightened-ruby lips (against a sketchy, ‘curtained’ greyish background), possibly contemplating his Post-Impressionistic future; he was then in the exhilarating, very early stages of a Cézanne-ish ‘purifying process’. Coxon’s first visit to Paris was in 1922, when Rothenstein gave him introductions to Maillol and Bonnard.
The touchingly solemn look of Coxon’s early self-portrait may perhaps be partly accounted for by terrible hardships he had seen and endured serving with the Cavalry in Palestine in the First World War. In this painting, Coxon seems to be at critical moment: in a raw psychic state somewhere between careless youth and maturity.
London’s Courtauld Collection contains some enchantingly fresh late 1920s’ paintings by Coxon – including one of resting farm labourers and horses, another of young boys playing marbles. Raymond Coxon died in 1997, aged 100