Richard Eurich R.A

Works | Biography
The Argument. 28x25cm. Oil on board. 1983.

Richard Eurich, Visionary Artist – A short essay by Christine Clearkin

Richard Eurich RA (1903-1992) was one of those English artists who stand in a long tradition of individuality. To the uninitiated eye his work may be hard to spot, but once the viewer is attuned to his style it can be recognised immediately. Eurich’s younger contemporary and fellow Royal Academician, Bernard Dunstan, has observed that

“Altogether his range of subject matter and treatment is far wider than that of most of his contemporaries, most of whom had settled down by early middle age to a manageable area of subjects and a recognisable style – as is, in fact, the normal sequence of a painter’s development. Eurich never settled down in this way” [Bernard Dunstan, ‘Some notes on Richard Eurich’, Richard Eurich (Alresford Gallery, Spring 2000)]

It was this continuing artistic curiosity and capacity to experiment that has, to an extent, militated against his classification and therefore his place in art history. To a certain generation he will always be known for his work as an Official War Artist to the Admiralty during the Second World War, but he had a very distinct career either side of this period, and indeed a further manifestation of artistic originality in retirement.

Richard Ernst Eurich was born in Bradford in March 1903. His father, who had been a general practitioner and later became Professor of Forensic Pathology at the University of Leeds, has a prominent place in the history of medicine for his research into the causes, and treatment, of anthrax. Eurich’s talent as an artist became apparent during the course of his school education and in 1922 he won a scholarship to Bradford School of Arts & Crafts. There he learned to draw from the antique and acquired an appreciation of classical sculpture, but ultimately he found the course unsatisfactory because of its bias towards commercial art when his aptitude and inclination was for fine art. In 1924 Eurich moved to the Slade School of Fine Art, London, at that time considered the country’s leading school of art ahead of the Royal Academy.

His first one-man exhibition took place at the Goupil Gallery in the West End of London in 1929 and consisted entirely of minutely detailed pencil drawings on subjects largely derived from his imagination. It elicited words of compliment and encouragement from his slightly older contemporary, Christopher Wood (1901-1930), who advised him ‘to paint what you love and damn all fashions which come and go’.

Eurich took this advice to heart and continued throughout his life to paint subjects which gave him inspiration rather than those with commercial possibilities, even when the market for his paintings declined sharply in the post-War years. In the years leading up to the War, however, it seemed as if he had a great career ahead of him. The Redfern Gallery commissioned an exhibition entitled, ‘Paintings of Dorset Seaports’, in 1933. They were to remain his London dealers for the next 25 years, with a succession of 15 solo exhibitions. In 1936 he was invited to represent Great Britain at the annual International Exhibition of Paintings at the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, an honour which was repeated in successive years up to 1939, and again in 1950. In 1937 the Royal Academy of Arts accepted a painting by Eurich for their summer exhibition, while in 1939 he was elected to the New English Art Club. A further honour came in 1940 with the purchase for the nation by the Chantrey Bequest of his painting Antwerp (1939), now in the collection of Tate Britain. In 1942, on the strength of his recent outstanding work, Eurich was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy of Arts. In the midst of all this success, in 1934, he found time to marry his sweetheart and fellow artist, Mavis Pope, and they moved from London to live in Dibden Purlieu on the western shore of Southampton Water.

In 1940 a painting he produced in response to the Dunkirk evacuation was accepted by the War Artists Advisory Committee. They then commissioned him to undertake two trial works, and the following year he was appointed an Official War Artist to the Admiralty with an honorary commission as a Captain in the Royal Marines. Four years of concerted effort followed which resulted in some of the most remarkable and varied paintings that commemorate the conflict at sea, but which left him near exhausted.

Perhaps as a reaction to this intense period of artistic activity, focused almost exclusively on one subject, and possibly also in response to a world that had lost its innocence, he began to paint pictures for children and of childhood. His own family of three young children and several nieces and nephews were a ready audience for this work, but unfortunately it was not to the taste of the art market. Eurich was, therefore, obliged to find paid employment as a part-time lecturer at Camberwell School of Art, an establishment which had also engaged the services of leading artists from the Euston Road Group. Throughout his time there, up until his retirement in 1968, he stayed true to Christopher Woods’ advice and continued to paint what he loved rather than what fashionable taste would have him paint. Works of remarkable imagination and originality languished in his studio and remained ‘undiscovered’ until 1968 when Nicholas Usherwood – then a junior member of staff at Arthur Tooth & Co – travelled down from London to select work for Eurich’s first solo exhibition in the capital for a decade. The exhibition met with critical acclaim and two further exhibitions followed. When Tooth’s closed, The Fine Art Society became Eurich’s London dealer, and gradually his reputation was recovered from obscurity. Major retrospective exhibitions were mounted by Cartwright Hall in Bradford (1979-80), the Imperial War Museum (1991-92), and Southampton City Art Gallery (1994). An exhibition to mark the centenary of his birth was mounted by Southampton Institute in 2003.

In conclusion, Richard Eurich is not the easiest artist to understand, largely because his style and technique kept changing. Take time to consider his work and then ask yourself whether his particular poetic vision, his gravity and his humour, and his empathy with the human condition, do indeed combine to distinguish him from his contemporaries and establish him as equal with the best. For myself, I would maintain that Richard Eurich truly deserves to be remembered, but more than that he deserves to be lauded as one of Britain’s greatest artists of the twentieth century.

Christine Clearkin

Christine Clearkin (2003) Richard Eurich, Visionary Artist.


Brent Geese

Oil on board. Signed and dated by the artist. Date 1986