July’s monthly exhibition includes a collection of works by Barnett Freedman (1901-1958): twelve early paintings, one watercolour and two of the artist's most iconic prints. Together they provide a great cross section of the artist’s oeuvre, from student days at the RCA to his time spent as an official war artist between 1940 and 1946.
Freedman was born into poverty in the East End of London on May 19th 1901, to Jewish immigrants from Russia. His childhood was plagued by ill health, culminating in four years in hospital between the ages of nine and thirteen. It was during this period of inactivity that his interest in drawing and painting first began.
By 1916, his health improved, he sought his first employment as a draughtsman to a monumental mason. Shortly after taking up this job he began to attend the St Martin’s School Art, where he spent his evenings for five years gaining his first organized training in art. He studied at St Martin’s until 1922 whereupon he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art. This allowed him to give up his day-to-day employment and concentrate on studying his true passion.

The atmosphere at the Royal College of Art in the years succeeding the First World War was one of great vitality and youth. Working alongside forward thinking artists like John Tunnard and Henry Moore as well as the more traditional Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden, the RCA was a highly stimulating environment for Freedman.. In 1932, in recognition of his talent, he was appointed Instructor of Still Life at the RCA and shortly after a teacher at the Ruskin School of Drawing in Oxford, both posts he held for a number of years. Between his formative training and the Second World War, Barnett Freedman’s artistic talents turned towards illustration and lithography; pursuits that he followed with great success until his appointment as official war artist in 1940. He crossed the channel in the company of Edward Ardizzone and Edward Bawden, both noted illustrators, then in 1941, with the fall of France, he returned to England and transferred to the Admiralty. He spent the remainder of the war working with the Navy recording life in submarines and battleships in drawings, watercolours and oil paintings. A fine example of his work of this period is his famous lithograph “15-Inch Gun Turret, HMS Repulse”.
All but three of the works in this month’s exhibition were painted between 1922 and 1925 while Freedman studied at the Royal College of Art. They were a recent discovery of Vincent Freedman (Barnett Freedman’s son), whereupon they were acquired by Gerrish Fine Art. This is the first public exhibition of these works.