Sydney Lee exhibition at the RA and Aberystwyth

Professor Robert Meyrick, Head of the School of Art and Keeper of the Museum, has for many years researched the work of the painter-printmaker Sydney Lee (1866-1944). The results are currently on show in From the Shadows: the prints of Sydney Lee RA at the Royal Academy until the 26th of May.

Meyrick has also written an extensive catalogue raisonné of Lee’s prints to accompany the exhibition. The show will tour to the School of Art Gallery and Museum here at Aberystwyth in the summer. Below is the abstract of Meyrick’s book which explains his research in more detail.

sydney lee

NEVER BEFORE HAS there been a publication devoted to Sydney Lee, an artist who, in his lifetime, was widely acclaimed for his paintings and prints of landscapes and architectural subjects that he sought out in his travels around Britain and on the Continent. The last exhibition to showcase his work was staged in 1945, four years prior to the artist’s death. Since then, his stature has been reduced to little more than a footnote in the history of 20th-century British art. His works have never been catalogued and his many, varied contributions to printmaking have received but scant appraisal. Long overdue, the present fully-illustrated publication aims to redress this significant oversight. Drawing on a broad range of prints and manuscripts, it attempts to reconstruct a life through art.

Staithes woodcut

The Bridge, Staithes, colour woodcut, 1904

The Colosseum in Rome. A mountain fortress high in the Swiss Alps. The city walls of Segovia and the Basilica de San Vicente at Avila. Sydney Lee travelled near and far in search of such monumental subjects. He became known and acclaimed for his ‘studies of picturesque old buildings … rich in the patina and atmosphere of history’; but Lee was also a pioneer, an early exponent of wood engraving as a fine art medium, colour woodcuts in the Japanese manner, as well as tonal intaglio printmaking. A versatile painter-printmaker, he produced drypoints, aquatints, mezzotints, lithographs, wood engravings and woodcuts. Few artists working in Britain during the first quarter of the 20th century were in command of such a broad range of graphic media.

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Ponte Paradiso, wood engraving, 1927

Lee was a member of the Royal Academy of Arts and the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers as well as numerous other professional bodies. His works are now represented – albeit rarely on view – in major museum collections from Australia and New Zealand to Canada and the United States of America. Yet despite his professional associations and the peer recognition he received in his lifetime, Lee never achieved lasting critical acclaim. The name he made for himself all but died with him. How could one of the ‘most versatile of artists associated with the Royal Academy’ so quickly fall into oblivion?

The exhibition and the book:   http://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibitions/the-tennant-gallery/from-the-shadows,457,RAL.html#photos=gallery_null

Meyrick’s staff page:   http://www.aber.ac.uk/en/art/staff/rtm/

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