Ruth Borchard bought Ronald Long’s self-portrait in 1959. She would have seen two paintings by Long illustrated in Jack Beddington’s 1957 book, Young Artists of Promise.
Ronald Long was born in 1933, and studied Fine Art at Kings College, Newcastle-upon-Tyne from 1950-5, where his tutors were Lawrence Gowing, Quentin Bell and Roger de Grey. He won scholarships there which allowed him to study in Paris for seven months; a letter of introduction from Quentin Bell enabled him to contact a number of prominent French figurative painters. From 1956-7 he was a part-time Lecturer in Life Drawing at St. Martin’s School of Art in London. From 1957-62 he was a teacher in schools in Somerset and Durham, and in 1963 was appointed County Art Advisor in Durham County. By 1997, he had settled in Northamptonshire. He has exhibited his paintings regularly over the years.
His self-portrait is dated 1953, so was painted when the artist was about twenty years old, an art student in Newcastle. This fresh-faced, rather cherubic-looking young man eyes himself up rather shyly and self-critically. Yet his unsmiling seriousness and reserve somehow do not preclude youthful immediacy: his dramatically illumined head engages us with its air of luminous, if sceptical intelligence.
The picture has something of the quality of what Walter Sickert had called, many years earlier, ‘a new prismatic chiaroscuro [based on an]… intensified observation of colour’. Close examination shows Long’s face composed of dozens of singularly coloured brushtrokes. The result is a rich mosaic of pigments, freely yet sensitively handled. He appears to be wearing a green jacket and brighter green shirt – though his attire is indistinctly, impressionistically even, conjured up. The darkened background is painted with lush abandon.
An introspective picture by Long, Small Uncut Brown (c.1955) – illustrated in Young Artists of Promise – is painted in a more diagrammatic way. Depicting a woman in her kitchen cutting a loaf, it is a ‘Kitchen Sink’-style painting (which, as David Sylvester had indicated when he first used that term in 1954, drew artists out of the ‘glamorous’ studio and into the prosaic kitchen) that also harks back to Camden Town Group paintings like Harold Gilman’s Tea in the Bedsitter (1914).