From Frances Hodgkins to May Smith, Mar 1940 Studio – West St – Corfe Castle – Dorset
‘I am still in Dorset. It is not wildly exciting, but I have a Studio and when I want “picturesque” I go out & look for it. I have a Water Colour Show opening next week at Lefevres & feel it is up to me to put in an appearance. Kitty Church has just had a highly successful show there sold 13 small priced paintings & put herself on the map’.
Kitty (Katharine) Church (later West) (1910-1999) was born in London and expressed an early desire to paint. She trained at the Brighton School of Art, the Royal Academy Schools 1930-33 and the Slade School of Fine Art 1933-34. In 1933 she had her first solo exhibition with Lucy Wertheim’s gallery in London. She also exhibited with the New English Art Club and showed regularly with The London Group. From 1937 to 1947 she exhibited at Leferve Gallery, London.
In 1937 she married Anthony West, son of the writers Dame Rebecca West and H.G. Wells. The following year the couple moved to a farm in Berkshire where they were visited regularly by a wide circle of friends that included Frances Hodgkins, Ivon Hitchens, John Piper and his wife Myfanwy.
Hodgkins painted a number of works whilst staying with the couple, including Double Portrait No.2 (Katharine and Anthony West) now held in the collection of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. The Wests were also instrumental in Hodgkins’ recovery after surgery in 1941, collecting her from hospital and caring for her in their home during her convalescence. During her stay she wrote to Arthur Reid of Lefevre Gallery;
‘Friends have been wonderful. Kitty & of course Anthony have been darlings & helped me through difficult days after the operation. I can never forget what they did for me. It was ideal at their Farm on those hot September days. I lay out all day in the garden insight of their beautiful herd of cows, whose milk did the trick & built up my strength’.
After the war Katharine and Anthony separated and she moved with the children to Sutton House near Wimborne, Dorset, where she added a studio and ran the Hambledon Gallery at Blandford Forum. While Church painted in many locations over the years it is Dorset that she made particularly her own. In oil, Church was as likely to produce portraits as still life paintings, but in watercolour, landscape was her favourite theme. Eastbury Gates, Tarrant Gunville, Dorset is entirely typical of the artist’s work in this medium in her dashing brushwork and lively colour. The present scene is of one of the remaining elements of the once magnificent 18th century mansion, Eastbury House at Tarrant Gunville in the heart of the Dorset countryside. It seems fitting that her painting companion at this spot was at times John Piper, known for his own depictions of the historic landed estates of Britain.
At the Hambledon Gallery, Church promoted the work of her early art school friends Mary Fedden and Julian Trevelyan, alongside work by the Pipers, John Craxton, Leonard Rosoman, Cecil Beaton and Frances Hodgkins. She exhibited a major body of Hodgkins’work at the Gallery in 1966, where a number of paintings were acquired by the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. 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.