209 Self portrait 1933This Biography is reproduced by permission from the ODNB.

Anderson, (Alfred Charles) Stanley (1884–1966), printmaker and watercolour painter

by Paul Drury, rev. Ian Lowe

© Oxford University Press 2004–14 All rights reserved

Anderson, (Alfred Charles) Stanley (1884–1966), printmaker and watercolour painter, was born on 11 May 1884 in Bristol, the son of Alfred Ernest Anderson, of Heavitree, Devon, who started his own business as a skilled general and heraldic engraver, and his wife, Emma Bessie Mitchell. He had a twin sister, Rose, and another sister. He was educated at the Merchant Venturers' Technical College, Bristol, where he became a great reader, developed a love for music, and determined to become a professional artist. His mother had less precarious ambitions for him and persuaded him against his will at the age of fifteen to be apprenticed to his father. During this apprenticeship he learned to engrave on metal with exacting precision on, for example, salvers, tankards, and cutlery. While earning only 6 shillings a week (then the normal rate), he paid for tuition of one evening a week at the Bristol School of Art. In 1909 he won the British Institution open etching scholarship of £50 a year, with the etched portrait stipulated.

Having received neither encouragement nor money from his parents, Anderson arrived in London on 1 January 1909 to study at the Royal College of Art, under the expert technical instruction of Frank Short in the wider freedoms of etching and drypoint, with general drawing. To these Anderson applied himself diligently, while also attending classes at Goldsmiths' College, New Cross. He found art classes distracting and did his most rewarding study in the print room of the British Museum, as the visitors' book confirms. There he formed an abiding love for Dürer (whose line engraving St Jerome, in his Study with a Lion was ever to influence his pictorial attitude and technique) and for Rembrandt, Goya, and the later masters J. F. Millet and C. Meryon. Anderson exhibited two works in the Royal Academy in 1909, the first of 214 he was eventually to show there. Frank Short, always on the lookout for ‘likely men’ for the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers, of which he was president, welcomed Anderson as associate in 1910 and as fellow in 1923.

Although Anderson was encouraged by artists and was able to get a deal of small hack work to eke out his resources, his life was hard. His habit of work, dedication to his calling, and tenacity of purpose helped him surmount difficulties of finance and health and maintain himself until the outbreak of war in 1914. On 10 August 1910 he had married Lilian Phelps (1884–1967), the daughter of a master builder in Essex. A woman of fine character who had been a nurse at St Thomas's Hospital, she was calm, practical, and entirely selfless in all her relationships. Throughout their married life she provided a confidence in her husband's talents and a well-ordered home. After the war she returned at times to private nursing in order to augment their income while bringing up their two sons, Ivan Phelps (1911–1995) and Maxim (1914–1959), who was to earn a considerable reputation as a director of documentary films before his early death. Anderson engraved a dignified portrait of Lilian in nursing uniform, The Sister, in 1931.

During the First World War the family moved to Eltham, near Woolwich, where Anderson was engaged on munitions work, having been rejected as unfit for active service (he had severely strained his heart in his youth). In Chelsea again after the war, he resumed his uphill struggle with views of London and etched portraits. He became one of a formidable quartet of etchers and drypointists who were to achieve fame, the others being Henry Rushbury, Gerald Brockhurst, and Malcolm Osborne, young men of common purpose. They were inspired by Muirhead Bone, Francis Dodd, and William Strang, who were to the fore in the renascence of British etching. Anderson admired Strang's wide range of subject and media, composed with well-realized emphasis on the human content (in the Millet–Legros tradition), which he found helpful and affinitive.

Since, in the 1920s, there was a growing market for topographical prints, Anderson and Osborne often visited France and Spain. By the age of forty Anderson had set his course, with self-imposed disciplines through which to exploit his talents. He had always felt and now saw life as a whole. His compositions show the contiguous relationships between man and his surroundings, with objects made and used by man, such as tools, implements of agriculture, buildings, and places of worship. Consequently his predominantly topographical subjects—townscape, market, harbour, or landscape—are animated by people in appropriate groups or activities. Conversely, predominantly figure subjects include their authentic setting. Anderson always acutely observed people's actions, attitudes, and peculiarities, and recorded these in sketchbooks. He had great sympathy with the underdog, from the going down to the down and out, the aged, or the blind. Although many of his subjects show his social sympathies, a certain wry, humorous irony creeps in, as in his few oil paintings, which depict ‘types’—those who, for example, frequented the bookshops in Farringdon Road.

At first Anderson worked more often in boldly designed drypoint, using its full richness of ‘burr’—through luminous half-tones to silvery greys. Notable examples are The Goose Fair, Albi (1927), Les Arcades, Dieppe (1928), a town he loved, and St Nicholas, Prague (1929), which Campbell Dodgson considered one of the finest architectural drypoints of the century. These prints were invariably signed on the plate, at the bottom left or right, ‘S. Anderson’, and then signed in the margin, below the plate mark in ink or pencil, ‘Stanley Anderson’. However, Anderson became convinced, when he pushed the burin with his early acquired mastery, that only in line-engraving, with its incised clarity, could he truly express his well premeditated designs. That this formal method might deaden movement or atmosphere is immediately belied by such examples as The Fallen Star (1929) and Morning on the Seine (1930). This return to his first training was to come to fruition in his last forty plates, in which he maintained his consistently high standards of composition and intensity of understanding.

In 1925 Anderson succeeded Malcolm Osborne as visiting instructor in the etching department of Goldsmiths' College School of Art, then directed by Clive Gardiner. There he found a small band of students who were already seriously attracted to etching, among whom were Edward Bouverie-Hoyton, Paul Drury, Graham Sutherland, and Robin Tanner. To quote one of their number:

As a teacher Anderson was always anxious to help in any way, but he never sought to divert us from our own predilections. He was diffident in general criticism, but demonstrably exact about technical matters. His highest words of praise (behind anyone's back) were ‘sterling, probity and guts’. They were his own qualities, and his students held him in high esteem and affection. (private information)

He was warmly regarded for his sympathetic and tirelessly helpful teaching, patience, and goodwill. Until 1940 he continued on the visiting staff of Goldsmiths' College, where he also taught wood-engraving, a medium which he admired.

With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Anderson gave up his studio in London and went to live in the cottage which he had bought in 1933. It was in the small village of Towersey, not far from Thame on the eastern boundary of Oxfordshire and Long Crendon in the adjacent county of Buckinghamshire. In this quiet, undeveloped agricultural country, Anderson found the subjects which were increasingly dear to him and which were the basis of his last contribution as a print-maker and the final flowering of his creativity. He was never so happy and relaxed as when making exhaustive studies of craftsmen pursuing their callings, often out of doors and in all weathers. These included a basket-maker, blacksmiths, chair makers, hurdle makers, a saddler, thatchers, a wheelwright, and farm labourers, surrounded by and using their tools. From 1934 until his last engraving in 1953, Anderson produced editions of forty or fifty, later of sixty-five, proofs, which he sold for 3 guineas each. The full editions were often sold out, and not only at the annual exhibitions at the Royal Academy—‘a very good shopwindow’, as he described it. Anderson had a loyal following of admirers who bought from him directly. He kept meticulous records of his sales. These later prints were signed on the plate with his initials, ‘SA’, in a monogram within a triangle. Such subjects as Brook Farming (1936), Willow Lopping (1939), with its strong diagonals, and The Lacemaker (1940) provide lasting records of English rural life and its crafts before their disappearance and may well be considered his most important achievement.

Around Towersey, Anderson also found the subjects for his evocative watercolours, which were eagerly sought by collectors. This part of his work found a place in Recording Britain, the scheme launched at the suggestion of Kenneth Clark and Arnold Palmer in 1939 under the auspices of the Pilgrim Trust and the committee on the employment of artists in wartime. Anderson was one of the most prolific contributors, working at Painswick in Gloucestershire, Witney in Oxfordshire, and, nearer home, at Thame, each of his essentially topographical subjects being characteristically filled with local figures and activity.

In 1938 Anderson was the sole representative of British line-engraving at the Venice Biennial International Art Exhibition. He was a member of the engraving faculty of the British School at Rome from 1930 to 1952. In 1934 he was made ARA and in 1941 RA. He was appointed CBE in 1951. His work was widely exhibited and is represented in Britain, the USA, and Europe, and examples are held in the British, Victoria and Albert, Fitzwilliam, and Ashmolean museums. It is in the last of these that the most comprehensive collection of Anderson's print-making is to be found. It is the most instructive collection because of its many ‘states’, the working proofs before the published one, the artist's studies and notes, and letters from Anderson which reveal the pains he took with those who were interested in his prints, together with an explanatory catalogue. Moreover, many prints by the British etchers mentioned in this notice are also to be found in the Ashmolean Museum.

Anderson was shy, reticent, and vulnerable, but in the company of fellow artists and craftsmen he could be relaxed and expansive. Affectionate and generous in disposition, he could be a stern critic of the meretricious or slovenly of mind or manners, although his self-criticism was harsher. He had no liking for modern art and satirized Herbert Read. He was of middle height, quietly eager, and brisk in mind and movement. He died at his home, Darobey, Church Lane, Chearsley, Buckinghamshire, on 4 March 1966.

Four self-portraits of Anderson are known: each seems to mark a milestone in his artistic development. The earliest was etched in 1910. The next was an exercise in sandpaper mezzotint and drypoint (1913), in which he was encouraged by William Strang. Portrait of the Artist (1920), made at the age of thirty-six, emphasizes his intent eye and craggy determination, while the fourth was produced at the height of his powers in 1933, when he had completed more than 150 plates. It shows him, burin to hand, as he was about to undertake his last work, the series of country craftsmen, clear-eyed, confident, experienced—a true likeness.


For details of the source document and associated references please refer to: