Time makes us forget, and this applies to the work of Sheffield artist Kenneth Steel. He was a painter and etcher, noted for his watercolours, but since his death in 1970 his work is often overlooked.
Kenneth Steel was born in 1906, the son of George Thomas Steel, an artist and silver engraver. His eldest brother, George Hammond Steel (1900-1960) was a successful landscape painter, and both brothers studied at Sheffield College of Art under Anthony Betts. During the 1920s, Kenneth studied briefly under landscape artist, Stanley Royle, and exhibited his watercolours, oils, and engravings in Sheffield at the Heeley Art Club and Hallamshire Sketch Club.
In 1932 he secured a contract with the print publishers, James Connell and Sons, and annually published line engraving and drypoint prints both before and after the War. In 1935 he exhibited two of these prints at the Royal Academy and then in November 1935 he became the youngest elected member of the Royal Society of British Artists. His work in watercolour was shown at three one man exhibitions in London in 1934 and 1937 and Dublin in 1938. After World War Two he diversified into the fields of perspective drawings and commercial art. This included railway posters and carriage prints.
Among his most famous pieces are Sheffield Castle from 1964, commissioned by the Brightside and Carbrook Co-operative Society to hang in Castle House, an imaginary view of Sheffield Castle as it might have looked.
From his studio in Crookes, Kenneth found work preparing watercolour washed perspective drawings commissioned by the construction industry. One of these, the Electricity Sub Station on Moore Street, painted in 1965-1966, was a classic piece of Brutal architecture. Other works included Jodrell Bank Observatory, South Kirkby Colliery and Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet.
Kenneth wrote a number of books on artistic techniques and had his work widely reproduced in such publications as Arts Review, Sphere, Studio and The Artist.
But there was tragedy in his life. His mother and pregnant wife were both killed during the Sheffield Blitz, and much of his work destroyed. He remarried in 1953 and the last two decades of his life produced some of his most experimental artistic work.
His work can be found in a book ‘Kenneth Steel. Catalogue Raisonné of Prints and Posters’ with full-colour illustrations of his watercolour and oil paintings, plus his perspective drawings and later palette knife oil paintings of the Balearic Islands and beyond. The appendices include a complete catalogue of his fifty-four line engraving and drypoint prints, plus a full catalogue raisonné of his 48 Railway posters and thirty-five carriage prints.
This month you can view Kenneth Steel’s work in a new exhibition at Weston Park Museum. It is curated by Lucy Cooper, exhibitions and display curator at Sheffield Museums, and runs from December 17 until May 2.
Sometimes you stumble across something quite astonishing. This tale of the unexpected involves local artist Joe Scarborough, famous for bringing to life the everyday scenes of Sheffield, and Jackie Collins, nicknamed the ‘Queen of Trash’ for her 32 novels – featuring the sexual gymnastics of heroines including the mafia princess Lucky Santangelo and the insatiable supermodel Fontaine Khaled – selling more than half a billion copies.
Born in London in 1937, Collins’ first novel, “The World is Full of Married Men” was published in 1968 and established Collins as an author who dared to step where no other female writer had gone before. She followed it year after year with one successful title after another, including “The Stud” and “The Bitch,” both adapted into films in the 1970s starring her actress sister, Joan Collins.
Collins settled her family in sunny California in 1980, and had her home designed by architect Ardie Tavangarian, a man inspired by the clean lines of Swiss-French early 20th-century architect Le Corbusier.
The two-story Bel Air home had a guesthouse in the back, connected by a 100-foot-long gallery displaying artworks.
Enter Joe Scarborough, born in Sheffield in 1938 and raised at Pitsmoor, who began scribbling art on the back of reports his steelworker father brought home from work. After years spent working in the coal mines, Joe held his first solo art show at the age of 26, and quickly made a name for himself with his multicoloured paintings, which feature anonymous four-inch figures and scenes inspired by the 1950s and 60s.
In 1987, looking to add a splash of colour to her new mansion, Collins spotted a painting by Joe Scarborough and commissioned him to paint three pictures. The first of these – a scene of Blackpool – was sent to California in 1988.
Jackie Collins died of breast cancer in September 2015 while Joe Scarborough continues to paint on his much loved narrowboat on the canal.
In 2017, the contents of Collins’ mansion were sold at auction by Bonhams in Los Angeles. Sure enough, within the pages of the glossy catalogues were Joe Scarborough’s three masterpieces, although none depicted scenes of Sheffield. Between them, the three paintings – Blackpool, Cricket Match and City Scene – fetched US$6,500 (£4,664).
A few of us might argue that Sheffield has never been at the forefront of cultural excitement. This was never more apparent when, over a century ago, Alwyn Henry Holland put his money into the Howard Gallery.
His determination to give us an alternative exhibition space came at a cost and ended with the collapse of the family business.
Holland’s far-sightedness didn’t resonate with the public, and the only reminder of his folly is a stone relief set in a small portico above a doorway on Chapel Walk.
For many years, Alwyn Henry Holland (1862-1935), was the Hon. Sec. and member of the Council of the Sheffield Society of Artists, and probably the most enthusiastic artist in the city at the time. He was also a lay member of the Society of Architects, and Hon. Sec. and trustee of the Croft House Settlement.
He was born in Sheffield, the son of Alwin Hibbard Holland, provisions merchant, and was brought up as an architect.
The family home was at 11 Broomgrove Crescent, and he was educated principally at Brampton Schools, Wath. He then became a pupil, and afterwards assistant, with architect John Dodsley Webster.
On the death of his father in 1883, however, he succeeded to the business of A.H. Holland, at No. 9 Fargate.
In its day, A.H. Holland, was one of Sheffield’s finest grocery stores, famous for its high-class goods at low prices, and awarded three prize medals at London exhibitions.
He ran the business with his mother, Eliza, and, with Thomas Flockton, designed new shop premises as part of the Fargate widening scheme in 1889.
Like many Victorian businessmen, Holland dipped into the property market, and when land became available adjacent to No. 9 Fargate, on Chapel Walk, he designed and built eight single shops in English Renaissance style.
At the time of construction in 1897, Henry Fitzalan Howard, 15th Duke of Norfolk, was Mayor, and later Lord Mayor, of Sheffield, and the inspiration for naming the new art gallery that Holland built above the shops.
The gallery comprised two exhibition spaces, both 60ft in length, separated by a staircase, with light supplied by a lantern roof above. The main entrance was on Chapel Walk, with a separate carriage entrance around the back on Black Swan Walk.
The inclusion of the art gallery satisfied Holland’s notions as a watercolour painter, providing more suitable environs to display artwork, rather than on the walls of the shop that had previously been the case.
The Howard Gallery never intended to be a showcase for his own work but was to be used for rotating exhibitions of works by other artists.
Holland’s plans were extravagant, seeing it as a northern rival to the big London galleries. There were those who mocked his plans, but even the fiercest critics were astonished when the Howard Gallery announced its opening exhibition in April 1898.
William Marchant, manager of the Goupil Gallery in Regent Street, was persuaded to bring a collection of pictures and drawings to Sheffield – and the samples of work seem inconceivable today.
“The exhibition contains examples of Gainsborough, Constable, David Cox, Turner, Landseer, Corot, Guardi, J. Maris, Mauve, Israels, Whistler, and J.M. Swan,” wrote the Sheffield Daily Telegraph.
Public opinion was favourable, the critics silenced, but William Marchant struck a note of caution that pinpointed what lay ahead:
“I must say that when I decided to take this collection to Sheffield, I was fully aware of the fact that I was not catering for the popular taste, and I may add that several people who witnessed my preparations laughed and predicted total failure. I cannot say that much of Sheffield’s gold has found its way into our coffers, and the visitors have been, if select, very few, but I must own that I never expected to meet with so publicly expressed an appreciation.”
Despite the lacklustre support the Goupil Exhibition was extended past its May closing date, with several works removed and replaced with new works by Peter Graham, John Syer, Henry Dawson, Niemann and E.M. Wimperis. Several local artists were also represented including Austin Winterbottom, James Moore, Frank Saltfleet, and Jean Mitchell.
In June 1898, Thomas Agnew and Sons, fine art dealers, brought an exhibition to Sheffield, including Gethsemane ‘Jesus In the Garden’, painted by Tom Mostyn, and the engravings from the canvases of Landseer, Peter Graham, and Rosa Bonheur.
The Howard Gallery hired glass cases for its next exhibition of artistic book-bindings, obtained on loan from the Ruskin Museum Library, and which had rarely been seen.
And so, there followed a cycle of short-lived seasonal exhibitions – Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter – all of which cost a lot of money and poor return.
In June 1899, Holland closed the East Gallery claiming that previous exhibitions had been too large for art lovers to properly view, but finances were diminishing and, apart from the annual Sheffield Society of Artists’ Exhibition, the major showings dwindled away. But the local press remained optimistic:
“There had been sneers at the Howard Gallery as a mere commercial speculation, but they only exhibit a complete ignorance of the motives with which it was founded, and their absurdity is as patent as their injustice,” wrote ‘Le Flaneur’ in the Sheffield Independent.
Holland launched a Winter Exhibition in December 1901, using the West and East Gallery, which had been used as a restaurant, and showing nearly 250 oils and watercolours, but, apart from a Frank Saltfleet exhibition in January 1903, the galleries were advertised as being available to hire for dances and evening entertainments.
Music recitals became a mainstay of the gallery, a popular home for the Sheffield Chamber Music Society, as well as for meetings including those of the Alliance Francais.
The principal use, from 1903, was for the Sheffield Gentlemen’s Club during the rebuilding of their premises on Norfolk Street. It occurred to Holland that the comforts and conveniences of the club might be appreciated by the public, so, with necessary alterations and additions, the Howard Gallery, and adjoining Rutland Institute (above No.9 Fargate) were transformed into a café and restaurant.
Holland auctioned his collection of paintings, pewter, and pottery, as well as fixtures and fittings, and the gallery became The Meerah Café in December 1904.
Once again, the undertaking received support from the local press:
“Mr Holland is an architect of considerable repute, and in the extensive range of rooms has given free play to his artistic ideas. The place is full of artistic surprises. They seem to meet you at every turn. The old-fashioned windows he has so daintily worked into his scheme, the many snug retreats, the originality displayed in the lighting and the decorations, all breathe art. The very atmosphere seems artistic. Even the furniture has all been studied with an artist’s care. The late William Morris designed some of the most comfortable of the chairs which will be found in the gentlemen’s quarters; but Mr Holland has designed the remainder of the furniture. The tables of solid old oak, also breathe of art. The names of the rooms sound artistic. There are the York Room, the Howard Room, the Wharncliffe Room, and the Rutland Room. Music is provided by Charles Callum.”
The café and restaurant fared marginally better than the Howard Gallery, but the overindulgences of the exhibition space and subsequent conversion, played heavily on the finances of A.H. Holland.
Alwyn and Eliza invited shareholders into the business, and it became Hollands Ltd in 1906, but the company went into voluntary liquidation three years later.
The shop and café were closed, and the contents auctioned to help pay off the creditors.
The last hurrah appeared in the Sheffield Independent:
“’It is a tragedy, that is the only word for it,’ said an old customer. The Wharncliffe Room of Holland’s Café was half filled with buyers, and about a dozen men hung about waiting for jobs to remove the purchases. A couple of dogs, which had strayed into the room, surveyed the scene, and made a faint effort to wag their tails. The firm, business-like tones of the auctioneer rang out, and soon the artistic fittings, pictures, crockery, and cutlery, were auctioned off.
“Hollands was well known for the original designs of the interior of the premises, Mr Holland being quite ambitious in this direction. The shop was regarded as an example of the art doctrines of Ruskin and Morris. Indeed, Holland made a special effort to introduce art into ordinary matter-of-fact business. Unfortunately, the effort failed.”
Afterwards, Alwyn Henry Holland faded into obscurity, no doubt chastened by his experience, and spent time walking, playing tennis and golf, and sketching.
His legacy is forgotten, his work little-known.
Some of his work hangs at the Cutlers’ Hall which had commissioned him to paint views of the banqueting halls as well as its exterior. Perhaps his most famous painting is Sheffield from above the Midland Station, included in the Sheffield Museum collection.
Holland died in 1935 at Patrington, near Hull, aged 73.
The Howard Gallery returned in name only, used by British Westinghouse and the Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Company as showrooms, and part of it used by Thomas Monkman and later H.C. Hibbert as a billiards hall.
In the time since, the gallery space has been sub-divided, but the Howard Gallery carving remains, as does the long glass roof, visible only from above.
There must be somebody in Sheffield who can provide more information about one of our famous sons. This is a strange one, a man of mystery as far as his birth city is concerned, and worldwide success seems to have separated him from his roots.
Victor Burgin, born at Sheffield in 1941, a distinguished artist and theorist who has made his name with language and photography.
In the sixties he studied at the Royal College of Art and Yale University. While in America he discovered ‘minimal art’, at that time little known in Britain. This raised issues, not only about the form, but the nature of art, and Burgin was one of those artists on both sides of the Atlantic who developed ‘conceptual art’.
He has written numerous books and essays on art theory and criticism, and his chic photo pieces have been exhibited throughout the world.
“Art is not a spectator sport.”
Burgin taught at Trent Polytechnic, Nottingham, and the Polytechnic of Central London, before moving to San Francisco.
He was nominated for a Turner Prize in 1986, and is Professor Emeritus of History of Consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz; and Emeritus Millard Chair of Fine Art at Goldsmiths College, University of London. In 2015 Burgin was a Visiting Professor in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago, and in 2016 a Mellon Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. He is also Professor of Visual Culture at Winchester School of Art.
He holds Honorary Degrees at Sheffield Hallam University, as well as the University of Liège.
Burgin’s work is in public collections that include Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum and The Tate, London, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, and the Centre Pompidou, in Paris.
“I’ve made it from working class Sheffield to this middle class artistic milieu, and what the f**k am I doing here?”
These days, Burgin appears to split his time between homes in Somerset and Paris.