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Russell-Cotes acquires sketches of landmark Lucy Kemp-Welch painting

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Russell-Cotes acquires sketches of landmark Lucy Kemp-Welch painting

The Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, is thrilled to announce the acquisition of a significant collection of sketches by celebrated Bournemouth-born artist, Lucy Kemp-Welch (1869). This landmark acquisition, made possible with funding from the Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and Art Fund, adds 5 sketches to the Russell-Cotes’ permanent collection.

The preliminary sketches were for her breakthrough painting, Gypsy Horse Drovers, purchased by Merton Russell-Cotes, founder of the museum and admirer of her work, in 1917. Unusually for the period, Merton actively collected female artists with the result that the Russell-Cotes collection is a rich repository of women painters and sculptors – a tradition that has been maintained by the Russell-Cotes.

We are extremely lucky to know about the development of the painting, and these new sketches complete the story, offering a unique perspective into Lucy Kemp-Welch’s creative process and showcasing the evolution of this renowned work. According to the artist, aged 24, she spotted gypsy horse drovers passing in front of her house on the way to the Barnet Horse Fair. Grabbing the only thing to hand, her paint box lid, she rushed out to capture the image. She then produced the sketches and worked up the painting on a large scale (8ft x 4ft). She showed it anonymously to artist and tutor Hubert von Herkomer, who so impressed that he suggested she show it at the Royal Academy. The painting and its associated copyright were sold before the exhibition even opened to the public, making Lucy an overnight success.  Lucy gave the paint box lid to the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum in 1956, 2 years before her death, and the completed work, Gypsy Horse Drovers, is on permanent display in the museum. Lucy was delighted that her work was held in the town of her birth.

Born in Bournemouth, to a well-known local family, Kemp-Welch showed a precocious talent for painting, particularly of horses and animals which was nurtured by local teachers and the Art School (now Arts University Bournemouth) and she went on to study at Bushey under the well-known artist Sir Hubert von Herkomer (1849 – 1914). In 1905, she took over from Herkomer in running the art school and remained in Bushey for the rest of her life. She was the first woman to head up a co-educational establishment.

‘We are delighted to bring these remarkable sketches to the Russell-Cotes collection, ‘ says Sarah Newman, Manager of the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum. ‘Lucy Kemp-Welch’s Gypsy Horse Drovers has long held a special place at the Russell-Cotes, and this acquisition allows us to share a deeper understanding of her artistic journey.’

The sketches will be on temporary display from 1 July 2024, due to their light-sensitive nature, offering visitors a chance to delve deeper into the artist’s creative process. Digital content will be created for longer-term impact, and the sketches will be available to view during regular Spotlight Talks on the completed work.

In 2023-4, the Russell-Cotes and National Horse Racing Museum, Newmarket held an exhibition of her work ‘In her Own Voice: the Art of Lucy Kemp-Welch’ (funded by Weston Loan with Art Fund), to coincide with a new biography by David Boyd Haycock. David Messum Fine Art acquired much of her work on her death and her copyright and has worked for many years to bring her back to public attention.

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