Dealer Andrew Sim of Sim Fine Art makes a business of reviving neglected 20th century artists and for his next exhibition he offers an archive of works by his latest subject, Paul Drury (1903-87).
Make do & Mend: The wartime hospital drawings of master etcher Paul Drury offers a collection of the artist’s works organised and catalogued for the first time, 75 years after their production during the Second World War. The show is staged at The Gallery, Shepherd Market, Mayfair, from March 23-28.
Comparing Drury to figurative wartime artists such as Eric Kennington, Henry Lamb, or, from the First World War, Henry Tonks, Sim says: “The quality of the individual works is such that if they turned up on the secondary market, they would be fought over… but taken together, they represent a unique and precious portrait of life in a London hospital during the war.”
Father and son
Drury, despite losing an eye as a boy, was already an accomplished artist by the time war broke out. He assisted his father, the sculptor Alfred Drury (1856-1944), with his work, including the statue of Sir Joshua Reynolds in the courtyard of The Royal Academy.
Drury trained at Goldsmiths School of Art and did significant work as a printmaker, along with his friend Graham Sutherland (1903-80) during the British etching revival of the late 1920s. At the outbreak of war, Sutherland, who had acquired Kenneth Clark as a patron, became an Official War Artist.
Drury was deemed unfit for action but was eager to help in the war effort. He volunteered at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Roehampton, founded during the First World War to cope with the growing number of amputees.
He worked in the ‘plaster department’ of the Artificial Limb Unit, drawing on his previous experience modelling plaster casts in his father’s workshop.
Though he never applied to become an Official War Artist, the War Artists Advisory Committee (WAAC) supported his request to provide a visual record of his department’s work.
The resulting works filled three sketchbooks and include portraits of hospital staff and scenes of hospital life from complex procedures to recovering patients. He used these as the basis for drawings, pastels, watercolours and oils worked up in his Richmond home.
One of his hospital life drawings was purchased by the WAAC but the rest were put away after the war and archived, first by the artist and then by his son Jolyon.
Sim first became aware of the collection when Jolyon approached him at a fair.
“When I saw the quality and extent of the work, I couldn’t believe that such an exceptional tranche of artistic and social historical work like this had simply been forgotten. It was a treasure trove,” the dealer says.
These form the basis of the exhibition in Mayfair. Among the works are scenes that record the after-effects of some of the conflict’s most dramatic moments, such as the scene of a patient on a stretcher after Dunkirk. There are also scenes of injured soldiers sleeping, undergoing blood tests or having plaster casts applied.
In 1946, Drury took over the etching department at Goldsmiths and was selected as a principal of the college in 1967, two years before his retirement. Today, his work can be found at the British Museum, Victorian and Albert Museum and the Imperial War Museum among other institutions.