Katharine Church

Katharine 'Kitty' Duff Church

British (1910 - 1999)

Born in Highgate, north London, Katharine Church, known as ‘Kitty’ amongst friends and family, always wanted to paint. She trained at the Royal Academy of Arts between 1930-1933 and at the Slade between 1933 and 1934. In her early years Kitty exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy. Her first solo exhibition was in 1933 at the Wertheim Gallery. Other artists who exhibited there included Christopher Wood, Victor Pasmore and Cedric Morris. Kitty also showed with the New English Art Club, the London Group and between 1937-1947 her work was exhibited at the influential Lefevre Gallery, which supported avant-garde artists such as Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth. In 1954 the artist was invited to take part in the Figures in their setting exhibition held at the Tate Gallery.

Henry Tonks and Philip Wilson Steer had a strong influence on Kitty’s early work, but it was her friendship with Ivon Hitchens that liberated her painting technique. 

In 1936 Kitty married Anthony West, the son of writers Rebecca West and H.G. Wells. The couple initially lived in London before moving to Quarry Farm, Chicksgrove, Tisbury, near Salisbury, where they brought up their children Caroline and Edmund. There they hosted many of their friends, including the New Zealand painter Frances Hodgkins. Still life with fruits (lot 30) is one of many works Hodgkins dedicated to the Kitty and Anthony. Other regular visitors before the War included John and Mywafany Piper, Ralph and Frances Partridge, Noel and Catharine Carrington, Julian Trevelyan and Mary Fedden. For many of those who visited Kitty would organise painting expeditions. After the war Kitty and Anthony separated, with Anthony moving to the United States.

Anthony West moved to the United States to work as a journalist for The New Yorker. In the early years after their parting Kitty visited most years with the children. Some of her most striking works on paper were painted in Connecticut. Stonington, with its coastline and fishing boats, was a huge draw for Church. In this work Church has minimised her use of ground colour and has created perhaps one of her most ‘fauvist’ works on paper with lively colourful lines defining the shapes.

In the 1960s Kitty purchased Sutton House and ran the Hambledon Gallery at Blandford Forum. There she promoted the work of her early art-school friends Mary Fedden and Julian Trevelyan, alongside work by the Pipers, John Craxton, Leonard Rosoman, Keith Vaughan, Mary Potter and Cecil Beaton; she also supported a wide range of local artists.

While busying herself at the gallery Kitty never stopped painting. In the 80s her work was included in the exhibition John Piper and British New-Romantics at the National Museum of Wales. In 1988 John Duncalfe arranged a retrospective of her work at his gallery in Harrogate and was key in arranging her participation in the Harrogate International Festival in 1990. Kitty’s zest for painting and art never ceased and she remained active even in her later years.