Mother said ‘How quiet and peaceful it is, but we musn’t stay. The sun is going down’ and the sky and the lake turned to Glory and the year was Christmas 1906.
Born in the village of Lees, Oldham at the turn of the twentieth-century, Helen Bradley did not begin painting until the age of sixty-five. She painted for her own pleasure and to show her grandchildren what life was like when she was a child. But her work was soon met with such great enthusiasm that within a decade she was hosting sold-out solo exhibitions in London and America. It is for her charm and apparent naivety that Bradley’s work was so sought-after but looking closer one can appreciate the Artist’s acute understanding and observation of Western and non-Western cultures and the impact that this was to have over her painting style.
Bradley was particularly influenced by Persian Miniatures – the likes of which she spent hours pouring over in the British Museum – and Dutch Old Masters. These narrative influences were to help Bradley in developing her own unique story-telling style, shown here as she recalls collecting holly and ivy with her mother at Christmas in 1906 at their favorite picnic spot beside Rostherne Mere lake in Cheshire. Christmas was clearly an important time of year for Bradley, becoming the subject matter for some of her most popular and beloved paintings. She recalled ‘as the winter nights drew towards Christmas there was much sewing of patchwork quilts, and getting ready for the Christmas Bazaar. Then came the School Treat, which George and I didn’t really enjoy because Mr Thornley pretended to be Father Christmas, and in spite of his bristling side whiskers and beard whitened with flour, I felt afraid he would demand that I spelled “mouse” before he would give me an orange’ (Helen Bradley, And Miss Carter Wore Pink, Book Club Associates, London, 1972, p.5.)
Bradley was also inspired by the work of fellow northern artist L.S. Lowry, whom she met in the 1960s, and there are striking parallels to be drawn between their work, as seen in in such great works as A Cricket Match (1939, lot 16). Both display a natural affinity for their subject matter, painting people and places that they knew well, and both captured with a great sense of nostalgia a world that by the 1960s and ‘70s was all but lost.
In 1971 Jonathan Cape published the first of four books ‘And Miss Carter Wore Pink’ recounting scenes from Bradley’s childhood. The book was met with immediate success, with translations soon appearing in French, German, Japanese and Dutch, with a further special edition produced for the U.S.A. Bradley was awarded an M.B.E. for her services to the arts, but died before she was due to receive it from Her Majesty The Queen.
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