From a humble background and little formal education, Arthur Henry Knighton-Hammond, through hard work, determination and a unique artistic talent, rose to significant heights. Over a period in excess of seventy-five years, his work evolved from the youthful exuberance of the talented amateur to the sophisticated mastery of the mature professional and on the way he found fortune and favour such that he was able to devote his life to painting. With the help and encouragement of family and friends, Knighton-Hammond progressed from art college student to paid professional to establish himself among the leading artists of the day. His true talent is now being recognised more widely and with renewed interest in his work which, is long overdue, it is to be hoped that he will take his rightful place in modern British art history.
Born in Arnold, Nottinghamshire, on 18 September 1875, Arthur Henry Hammond was the youngest of six children and in his early childhood his only artistic influence was the frequent visits to the Hammond household by local artists. These included Jack Birkin, William Stanley, Sylvanus Redgate, Thomas Cooper Moore and his son Claude Thomas Stanfield Moore. William Hammond would sell the artist’s pictures in his furniture and general hardware shop.
He left school at the age of 11 and worked briefly in his brother's grocery shop before his father apprenticed him to a watchmaker in Nottingham, much against Arthur's wishes. However, working in Nottingham did have one advantage. It enabled Arthur to develop his growing interest in painting by attending the School of Art in the evenings where he studied under Wilson Foster. This soon became an obsession as Arthur began to spend more and more time painting until he was able to persuade his father to terminate his unhappy apprenticeship so that he could take up art full time. During this period, Arthur devoted himself to improving his work, with frequent painting trips to the Derbyshire Dales and Haddon Hall where he practised the techniques of landscape painting and draughtsmanship. In 1895, he exhibited his first painting at Nottingham Castle Museum at the age of 20.
By now, however, he was becoming disenchanted with the teaching methods of the Nottingham School of Art which were rigidly enforced by the headmaster, Joseph Harrison, and even though he was a star student, Arthur left the School to set-up an Atelier club in partnership with the Swedish artist, John Beer.
In 1900, Arthur left Nottingham and set out for London determined to make a living off his painting. He continued to study hard, at the Westminster School of Art, which he found most enjoyable but times were hard and in order to earn a living he had to diversify. The new craze was picture postcards and Arthur found he could readily adapt his style to suit this popular art form and also sell occasional paintings to London art dealers. Of particular interest at this time were paintings of hunting scenes and horse racing and Arthur, recognising the commercial opportunities in this subject matter, spent whatever time he could painting at race meetings and events.
In 1902, Arthur married Winifred Reeves and set up home in London where they had two daughters before moving back to the north to settle in Youlgreave, Derbyshire. Here, he began to hold regular exhibitions of his work at Bakewell Town Hall.
The year of 1907 brought perhaps Arthur's greatest achievement to date when he had a painting entitled Golden Autumn, Derbyshire accepted by the Royal Academy. He also began exhibiting at the Manchester City Art Gallery. The following year, he had a second painting, An Autumn Afternoon, Lathkil Dale, Derbyshire, accepted by the Royal Academy which attained the distinction of being 'hung on the line'.
In 1908, the Hammond family were on the move again, this time to Conwy, North Wales. Here, Arthur met Sydney Colwyn Foulkes, the distinguished architect, and a life-long friendship between them began. Sydney helped to sell Arthur's paintings, to his own clients for the houses he had designed for them, and bought them for his own collection. The move to North Wales was brief and the family soon moved on to the Stockport area before settling in Manchester. Here, Arthur's studio was large enough to hold exhibitions of his work which was by now receiving much attention in the press. It was around this time that Arthur had added 'Knighton' (his mother's maiden name) to his Christian name and it featured intermittently in his signature on paintings after 1912. This addition was possibly to make his name more distinctive and to people outside his close family he became known as Knighton.
By 1914, the family had moved again, to Stockport. Here, Arthur was able to develop his new found interest in etching by using the etching press at Manchester Municipal School of Art and also to develop his style further through the guiding influence of the Principal Art Master, Adolphe Valette, whose liberal teaching methods and knowledge of the latest Parisian trends began to show in Knighton Hammond's work.
At the same time, however, the war in Europe was taking hold on everyone's lives and Knighton Hammond was no exception as he found himself before the Medical Board only to be given the lowest grading of fitness. Unfit for active service, his contribution was to be on the home front where he was placed in the munitions drawing office of Simon Carves of Manchester. Here he was to turn his artistic talents to the preparation of drawings of buildings and components for the engineering industry.
Knighton Hammond's work soon came to the attention of Lord Moulton, Director General of the Explosives Supply Department in the Ministry of Munitions and later joint Managing Director of British Dyes. So impressed was he by the artist's work that he immediately offered him a job drawing the new buildings and plants associated with the chemical industry that were being constructed for the war effort, and which were of a type not seen in England before. Clearly Lord Moulton considered it important that a pictorial record be kept of the tremendous advances in these key areas of British industry during this period and Knighton Hammond was chosen for that role on a salary of £500 per annum.
Sir Joseph Turner, joint Managing Director of British Dyes Limited later assumed responsibility for Knighton Hammond's work. The two would agree subjects in advance and would be either at the Dalton Works, Huddersfield or the nearby Turnbridge plant. The artist's draughtsmanship was brought to the fore as much of his early work was either pencil or pen and ink drawings or etchings. Latterly he turned to water-colours which clearly show a change in style from his earlier work. There was a new freedom in the flowing, broad washes of colour whilst retaining the underlying precision of line. This change in style may have been the result of the influence of Valette. Knighton Hammond's work was used by British Dyes to illustrate many publications and were also used on trade stands at various exhibitions which the company attended.
After two years at British Dyestuffs Corporation, the subject matter was more or less exhausted and wishing to further develop his industrial landscape painting, Knighton Hammond sent a chance letter to Herbert H Dow, President and founder of the Dow Chemical Company in America. The letter gave an account of himself and the work he had been doing for the chemical industry. In a reply, dated 24 December 1919, Mr Dow accepted the artist's offer to create a pictorial record of the Dow operation and the necessary arrangements were put in hand for a trip to Midland, Michigan, USA.
Knighton Hammond set sail from Southampton on 12 April 1920 arriving at his eventual destination on 26 April where he was met by his host.
After a guided tour of the plant by Mr Dow, Knighton Hammond settled in and began painting. Many of his external views of the plant, portraying rows of chimneys with their tall vertical lines breaking across the horizon at different heights and distances, create without any artificiality an inherently dignified design. Yet the design remains unself-conscious since the plant itself was built with no other purpose than to be functional.
Knighton Hammond enjoyed the social side of his stay in America and spent a great deal of time with Mr and Mrs Dow, and company managers and chemists. His wife and daughters joined him for the latter part of this American adventure.
At the end of the six-month commission the Hammonds left the Dow plant and made a brief stay in Chicago prior to their return home. Settling again in Stockport, Knighton Hammond continued his work on industrial landscape painting at various companies in Sheffield. He was, however, very unsettled as his eyes and mind had been opened by his trip to America. With a failing marriage, Knighton Hammond decided to embark on a trip to the Continent. He left England in July 1922 and made his way to Venice where he was overwhelmed by its beauty. With renewed vigour Knighton Hammond was out with his water-colours working on the wealth of architectural and cultural subjects.
Later that year, Knighton Hammond went on a brief but productive painting expedition to Tunisia. With an accumulation of work, the artist held his first Continental exhibition. San Remo was the venue and amongst the visitors were Prince and Princess Nicholas of Greece. The Prince was a connoisseur of the arts and became a close friend and great admirer of Knighton Hammond's work. The two friends travelled around together, sometimes accompanied by the Prince's daughters who were given paintings lessons by the artist.
Knighton Hammond made return journeys home to England to see his family and to undertake various commissions including a series of paintings of Derwent Hall, the home of Lord and Lady FitzAlan which was soon to be lost under a proposed reservoir and the family wanted a record of the house and grounds.
In July 1924, Knighton Hammond held an exhibition at the Beaux Art Gallery, Bruton Street, London. Prior to the opening, the artist was hanging his pictures when he was interrupted by Prince Nicholas of Greece accompanied by Queen Mary who was insistent on seeing Knighton Hammond and his work. The newspapers made much of the Queen's visit and it was also well reported that Sir Joseph Duveen bought three water-colours from the exhibition for the Tate Gallery.
Whilst in England the artist visited Oxford and Richmond finding more subjects for his portfolio which was further added to on his return to the Continent with paintings of Paris, Avignon and Florence. In October 1924, Knighton Hammond held his first major exhibition at Galerie Charpentier, Paris. One hundred water-colours were displayed and a procession of visitors including Prince Nicholas and other members of the Greek Royal Family caused sufficient interest for the newspapers to give very favourable reviews.
Knighton Hammond's work came to the attention of Jessica Walker Stephens, a reporter with The Studio. Miss Walker Stephens, in an illustrated article of November 1924, gave great praise and analysis to the artist's water-colours. She also wrote the introduction to a catalogue of Knighton Hammond's very successful exhibition at the Fine Art Society during June 1925.
In January 1926, Knighton Hammond was elected an associate member of the American Watercolor Society. Further recognition of his talent came in March of the same year when he was holding one of his frequent exhibitions at the Galerie Grenier, Menton. It was viewed by fellow artist Augustus John, who reporting in the Menton & Monte Carlo News commented on Knighton Hammond, 'That man is the greatest English painter in water-colours of our time'. This was praise indeed from an artist who was not renowned for praising the work of others.
It is clear that painting on the Continent brought about a considerable change in the artist's work. He had been developing a much lighter, brighter and freer style which was further enhanced by his study of light and atmosphere which owe a great deal to the Impressionists' style of painting. He would record an 'impression' of his subject, creating an illusion of detail whilst maintaining the structured form and perspective typical of his earlier architectural studies. With a rare blend of precision and spontaneity the artist has learned to apply what at close quarters seem no more than individual daubs of paint, the colours carefully juxtaposed, which when viewed from a distance are transformed to reveal the whole and in the process produce an intensely personal and emotional response in the spectator, offering an experience of the senses as much as a record of the scene. Water-colours in particular were painted at lightning speed which gave spontaneity, movement and life to the composition.
Following the divorce from his first wife, Knighton Hammond married Emmeline Low whom he had met on the Riviera. They were delighted with the birth of a baby daughter, Mary Beatrix, and during the latter part of 1926, they moved to Cap Martin. The artist was by now exhibiting regularly in England, on the Continent and further afield in America and Australia. In 1928, Knighton Hammond was elected a full Member of the American Watercolor Society. He was particularly delighted with this honour as very few English artists were members of this prestigious society.
During 1932, the artist and his family began to spend more time back in England. As Mrs Hammond was expecting their second child, the couple decided to settle in Alton, Hampshire until the birth so that the baby would be born in England.
Tragically, Emmeline Hammond died a few weeks after giving birth on 28 February 1933, to a baby son, John. The artist was heart-broken by the loss but his many friends rallied to comfort him and his children at this sad time. His spirits were lifted a little a few months later with the news that he had been elected a member of the Pastel Society, a medium which he was using more frequently by this time and a member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water-colours, an honour which was particularly satisfying for the artist as recognition of his considerable skill in this medium.
Later in 1933, Knighton Hammond was commissioned to paint the portrait of Earl Lloyd George of Dwyfor. The life-size, half-length, three-quarter profile portrait was executed in pastels and was to be exhibited at the Pastel Society before being return to the sitter. Knighton Hammond very much enjoyed the company of Lloyd George who, in addition to his portrait, purchased other works from the artist.
Knighton Hammond married Iris Benson who was a family friend and it was decided that 'Knighton' should be more formally introduced as part of their surname by deed poll and, as such, a hyphen was also added. The couple moved to Ditchling in Sussex in January 1934. This village was a haven for artists and friendships quickly developed with, amongst others, Sir Frank Brangwyn and the calligraphist Edward Johnston. By now, Knighton-Hammond was spending much more of his time with portraiture and his friends became his subjects. From this period a drawing and etching of Brangwyn and an oil painting of Johnston are on permanent display in the National Portrait Gallery and portraits of many of the old characters of the village who he so enjoyed painting have been exhibited at the RI, the Pastel Society and the Royal Society of Portrait Painters.
The most striking things about Knighton-Hammond's portraits are that they are both creatively and keenly observed character studies. He pays particular attention to the sitter's expression to try to convey some of the character and complexity of the individual and by deliberately focusing on the sitter's gaze, he gives acute intensity to his portraits.
In 1937, Knighton-Hammond was elected a member of the Royal Society of Oil Painters and in the following year, he was again exhibiting at the Royal Academy. His reputation as a pastelist had developed during the 1930s and he was commissioned to write a series of six articles on pastel painting for The Artist magazine which were published in 1939 and 1940. During this time, the family moved from Ditchling to Old Court, Misterton, Somerset. Among the illustrations for the magazine articles, the artist used a number of portraits including Lloyd George, Sinden the Chemist at Ditchling (father of the late Donald Sinden the actor) and Nathaniel Brayne who was gardener/handyman to the Knighton-Hammond family.
In 1941, Knighton-Hammond was elected a Member of the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Water-colours where he continued to exhibit along with regularly exhibiting at the Royal Academy, the Royal Institution of Painters in Water-colours and Royal Institute of Oil Painters. Settling in Somerset, the artist had a new range of subject matter to explore. The farms adjacent to Old Court provided a feast of characters, animals and farming activities all of which Knighton-Hammond relished.
In 1955, the Knighton-Hammond family moved once more. Old Court was too large for their needs and they bought Higher Farm, Seaborough a few miles away in the neighbouring county of Dorset. A large barn was quickly converted to a studio where the artist spent much of his time either painting or giving lessons in painting.
During the 1960s, Knighton-Hammond was featured on a regional tea-time television programme. Filming took place in his studio which, as always, was full of his work and provided a feast of interest and colour for those present and of great interest for the viewers.
In the latter years of his life, Knighton-Hammond became less active and he died peacefully in his sleep on 28 February 1970 at his home aged 94 years. His death was widely reported in the national and local newspapers. His working life had spanned in excess of seventy-five years and in his lifetime, he had seen great changes at home and abroad. This, coupled with the fact that he worked at great speed, resulted in a prolific output of work.
His work evolved from that of a traditional landscape and sporting painter to an industrial illustrator, and perhaps most significantly of all, to an accomplished water-colourist. On the Continent, he flirted with impressionism creating a style that appealed very much to the connoisseurs of the day.
A full account of Knighton-Hammond's life and work is available in a book entitled Arthur Henry Knighton-Hammond by Peter Norris. Published by The Lutterworth Press, PO Box 60, Cambridge, CB1 2NT. (ISBN 0-7188-2824-0).
The Artwork Library provides a small selection of Knighton-Hammond's prolific output over a period of 80 years. The Library is being constantly added to and public participation is encouraged.