Arthur Legge was a local Essex based artist about whom I knew nothing until quite recently. We recently acquired the most original portfolio of his work which had been kept in darkened conditions to the extent that when we viewed the work it looked like they could have been painted last week. It was at this point that the old "detective" in me decided that Arthur Legge and his watercolours were just to good to go forgotten to the rest of the world and I decided to do some research . Where do you start ? Google , of course.
I was however surprised that there was little information other than a few auction records that showed that his work had been sold in the London rooms for £600-£700 for smaller works and a larger piece at £1800. So clearly he was a fine artist and a member of the RBA who appears to have exhibited regularly in the early part of the 1900's. So how has he been forgotten ? I guess that fact that British watercolours have gone out of favour and are only know starting to see an increase in interest does account for some of the reason but actually I really cannot explain it other than to say he appears to have been a reserved chap, a family man with a wife and daughters who had financial means and enjoyed travelling the world in his later life.
In his working life he lived in South Essex and East London , teaching art in the Art School and exhibiting his work on a regular basis in London. No dramas, no high life , no scandal and then a retirement to Finchingfield in North Essex with his wife and daughters in 1918 having purchased a house there some ten years previous. It was whilst researching him on the internet that I found an entry about a collection of his watercolours that had been found in a trunk when the Guildhall was renovated some ten years ago and decided to contact the community to find out more.
Finchingfield is close to Great Bardfield , which as most will know is famous for its artist community so I was even more surprised that I had not heard of this local artist before, particularly as he painted the Windmill in Bardfield and local rural farming scenes in a similar fashion and time to Harry Becker - another of our favourites here at Blondes.
After a few emails I made arrangements to see Dez Fahy at the Guildhall who agreed to show me the work they had in the Guildhall collection. None was framed and many rolled so I was concerned about there condition but I need not have been as they were in superb condition and the fact that they had not been displayed meant the colours were strong . The subjects varied from local scenes, portraits of his daughter and rural farm labouring activity but all were accomplished and completed by an artist who should be much better known. So having seen these watercolours and showed mine to Des and the others there to assist, I was then given more information than I had expected as they had done research on the Legge family and told me the following information.
Arthur Legge was born in 1859 and died 1942 he lived with his family in a large house at the rear of the churchyard called Cabbaches , a fine medieval house. He was buried in the graveyard in Finchingfield church but before he died designed the war memorial in the village. It appears from talking to those that knew one of his daughters that he also carved some stunning work which is still in his house together with panelling that he purchased from another local house when being converted into a butchers shop. Indeed the records of the house purchase , for the sum of £200, still exist as do the family tree that shows his wife was originally from Steeple Bumpstead and that one of is daughters married a local farmer and his relatives still farm land between Great Bardfield and Finchingfield.
So I am most grateful to the Finchingfield community for sharing this information and feel that it is necessary to find out a little more about this very good artist. What I still do not know is anything about his travels. How and why did he travel abroad in the 1920/30s and can anone out there help fill in some gaps? In a effort to find out more I went home via "Between the lines" the book shop in Great Bardfield to have a coffee with the village sage and author, Janet Dyson who also knew little about the artist. So there it will stay for the moment and should anything else come to light I will be sure to post another blog .
Please, please do spend a moment looking at the 30 plus watercolours that we have posted as an on line exhibition . They are all for sale and are of locations around the world that we would think nothing of travelling to on holiday today but in the 1920's this must have been an unusual and expensive event - No Ryan Air back then!
They are great value for money so treat yourself for Christmas and bring back those summer holiday memories by purchasing a watercolour by Arthur Legge.