LoveEast is proud to collaborate with Spitalfields Life to present an exclusive preview of East End Vernacular
The new book, East End Vernacular, Artists who painted London’s East End Streets in the 20th Century, will be published in October and we are delighted to give LoveEast readers a preview of the book’s beautiful content.
This handsome art monograph assembles a magnificent selection of pictures, tracing the evolution of painting styles and illustrating the changing character of the East London streets throughout the last century
In this issue of LoveEast, three very different yet equally talented painters celebrate familiar East End locations with affection and imagination.
Born on Christmas Day 1883, Silk was a basket-maker. He grew up working in his uncle Abraham Silk’s basket-making workshop in Bow Road.
While serving in the army during the First World War, he began sketching, and in the 1920s he attended classes at the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Institute, exhibiting his work for the first time in 1924. Over the coming years, Silk achieved significant recognition as far away as America. The Daily Telegraph and Sunday Times revealed that, in addition to purchases by national collections in this country, the far-away Public Gallery of Toledo in Ohio had bought Silk’s Still Life for six guineas.
Yet he never gave up his work as a basket-maker. “He used to work for three weeks at basket-making and spend the fourth in the pub,” fellow painter Walter Steggles remembered fondly.
A window cleaner by trade, Turpin was born in Columbia Road, Bethnal Green in 1900. His father earned what he could as a tea-cooper, feather sorter and casual docker, and when Turpin left Globe Road School at 14, he tried a bit of everything to earn a crust, until at 15 he was conscripted for the First World War.
Like Henry Silk, he began painting while in the forces and returned to take up the job of window cleaner, but in a later interview he revealed his motives as an artist. He admitted a wish to show others “the beauty in the East End and to record the old streets before they go.”
Several of his paintings were included in the East London Art show at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1928 and were transferred to the Tate Gallery. In 1926, the year of the General Strike, on the way to his art group, Turpin heard a speech by Bill Gee, a working class activist. “What he did was to make me forget all about my art class and join up with the organised workers right there,” he wrote in his autobiography. As well as joining the Labour Party, Albert Turpin became an anti-Fascist protestor and was unanimously elected Mayor of Bethnal Green in 1946.
Born in 1918, Roland Collins first came to the East End in the 1930s in the footsteps of James McNeill Whistler, drawing riverside scenes, returning after the war to paint the Hawksmoor churches. “I’ve always been interested in that area,” he confided wistfully at 94, “I remember one of my first excursions to see the French Synagogue in Fournier Street.”
A remarkable talent of modest demeanour, Collins was an artist who quietly followed his personal enthusiasms, especially in architecture and all aspects of London lore, creating a significant body of paintings while supporting himself as a designer throughout his working life. “I was designing everything,” he declared, searching his mind and seizing upon a random example, “I did record sleeves, I did the sleeve for Decca for the first long-playing record ever produced.”
Copies of East End Vernacular, Artists who painted London’s East End Streets in the 20th Century can be pre-ordered from spitalfieldslife.com for £25.