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John Wonnacott and John Lessore

The Life Room and the City: John Wonnacott and John Lessore

Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery
4 October 2014 – 4 January 2015

About Life: John Wonnacott and John Lessore

The Gallery at NUA
4 November – 10 January 2015

Curated by Professor Lynda Morris.

John Wonnacott and John Lessore taught at Norwich School of Art from 1978 to 1986 and in that time made a distinguished set of drawings and paintings of the city and their teaching. The paintings were bought by Tate, the Arts Council Collection, Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery and private collectors. Since then the reputation of Wonnacott and Lessore has grown internationally.

Wonnacott and Lessore were asked to develop the Life Room at Norwich School of Art by Ed Middleditch (RA), then Head of Fine Art, in response to a perceived de-skilling in art education in the 1960s that resulted from the enthusiasm for Abstract Art. Middleditch was one of the four painters associated with the ‘Kitchen Sink School’ who were all shown by the Beaux Arts Gallery. Norwich became and influential contributor to the development of the practice of drawing and painting in a dedicated life room in the early 1980s.

First year students were all trained in basic drawing from observation. The important idea of ‘sight size’ that Sickert had deduced from Old Master Drawing, subsequently developed by Tonks and Coldstream at the Slade, was taught. Sight size describes measuring the size of the model from observation and making the drawing at that exact size measured at arms ‘length on a sheet of paper on an easel also at arms’ length. Lessore also organised lectures in anatomy for artists with the Demonstrator in Anatomy at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, Dr Philip Evans.

Wonnacott and Lessore are stylistically different but both used painting to explore memory, anatomy, perspective, drawing and lens-based technologies and share an interest in the traditions of European art since Giotto. Their work has an important relationship to impressionism through Sickert, and his links to Whistler and Degas.

John Wonnacott was commissioned to paint the centenary portrait of the Royal Family for the 100th birthday of the Queen Mother by the National Portrait Gallery and his head of Sir Edwin Manton hangs in the Manton entrance to Tate Britain.

John Lessore was commissioned to paints the Paralympians 2014 and the Architects of the Ondaatje Extension for the National Portrait Gallery, Jeremy Dixon and Edward Jones. He was a Trustee of the National Gallery from 2003-2011.

Professor Lynda Morris worked with Wonnacott and Lessore during their time at the Norwich.

This collaborative project between Norwich Castle Museum and Norwich University of the Arts offers a unique opportunity to engage with British painting and drawing within the context of Norwich and the art school. The exhibitions will be accompanied by a large range of event including a symposium, free lectures, workshops and walking tour of Norwich and the NUA campus as it is today.

Anne Sleeping

John Wonnacott, Anne Sleeping, 1974, oil on board,private collection.

John Wonnacott and John Lessore: The Norwich Life Room – exhibition catalogue now available to buy online here.

A Return to the Norwich Life Room: Exhibition Conference

To accompany the two exhibitions on John Wonnacott and John Lessore at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery and Norwich University of the Arts a conference on 9 November explored the impact that the artists’ work and their teaching had in Norwich in the late seventies and eighties and the development of figurative painting in Britain at this time. To find out more download the Conference flyer below.