An important collection from the studio of this significant World War I official war artist is to be included in our February Fine Art auction. The collection, comprising in excess of fifty works, comes by direct family descent and represents the most substantial collection of his work to ever come to sale.
Gerald Spencer Pryse was born in Ashton and educated at Eton. He was largely self taught but with spells under artists in London and Paris. He won first prize at the Venice International Exhibition in 1907. Early in his career he contributed work to The Strand Magazine, The Graphic and Punch, he produced illustrations for E Nesbit, Henry Fielding and others. A staunch socialist and an active member of the Fabian Society, his work was often politically charged and with humanist themes, demonstrated in posters for various humanitarian relief agencies throughout the first world war and its aftermath.
Pryse initially focussed on print-making and was well versed in the techniques of lithography by the outbreak of The Great War. He captured scenes from the battlefields from 1914 and ultimately became the most prolific lithographic artist of World War I. Working initially under the patronage of The Queen of Belgium as a dispatch rider on the Belgian front, he had the freedom to record his observations directly onto huge lithographic stones, which he carried around the Western front line in his Mercedes, commentators at the time described him as ‘’looking like he’d looted a graveyard’”. He later wrote a memoir of this time ‘Four Days: an account of a journey in France made between 28 and 31 August 1914’ published by John Lane in 1932.
Pryse also worked with the Indian Army in France and several of his lithographs depict scenes of Indian troops. He subsequently served as a Captain in the Queen Victoria’s rifles, won the Military Cross at Passchendaele, was awarded the Croix de Guerre and was Mentioned in Dispatches. Pryse was torn between his obligation as a soldier and his potential value as an artist in the propaganda unit. His repeated petitions to become an official war artist were protracted due to his military success and the reluctance of his superiors to release him, his socialist leanings were also a significant stumbling block. In 1917 he finally became an official war artist, one of just 26 British artists to have been awarded the honour during WWI. When his sketches were later exhibited in London they were said to have ‘a freshness and authenticity that were not always apparent in the work of official war artists’, unfortunately much of his work was destroyed during the 1918 German Offensive, and even more destroyed when the Spencer Pryse house was bombed in World War II, after which time Gerald Spencer Pryse ceased to paint.
Pryse secured prestigious commissions during the war period, including poster designs for military recruitment, the British Red Cross, London Underground and The Labour Party. In 1924 he did a large series of work for the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, working alongside Frank Brangwyn to produce the official accompanying publication and on a monumental series of posters covered ‘the whole of the Empire in 24 pictures’, designed to convey the extent and marvels of the British Empire. He also produced images for the 1928 and 1932 Olympics.
In 1925 he travelled and worked extensively in Morocco where his brother was based. In 1928 he toured West Africa by car and river steamer to record scenes on the Gold Coast and Nigeria for The Empire Marketing Board and in 1930 was commissioned for further works by the Gold Coast Government. Throughout his career he exhibited widely including at the Alpine Gallery, Royal Academy, Royal Scottish Gallery, Leicester Galleries and the Royal Glasgow Institute of Art. His work was acquired by and is held by The British Museum, The Victoria and Albert Museum, The Louvre, The Uffizi, The National Portrait Gallery, The Royal Collection and others.
Gerald Spencer Pryse, MC died at Cranford House, Stourton, Worcestershire on 28 November 1956 aged 74.
Our inaugural January 2024 specialist sale specifically for antique and vintage signage, including BBC Essex interview with our auctioneer Lewis Rabett.
In 2012, David Smith purchased School House in a remote Suffolk village and proceeded to convert the run-down Victorian red brick building into an airy modern living space.