Monet in Mind – Derwent Lees

Posted: 17th May 2021

Humber Museums Partnership - Monet in Mind – Derwent Lees

Derwent LEES
b.1884 – d.1931
The Blue Pool 1911
Oil on panel

The Blue Pool is featured in our Monet in Mind exhibition at Ferens Art Gallery (17 May – 4 July)
Australian born Derwent Lees explored idealised scenes and moments through layered colour planes.
His landscapes embody both a sense of calm and delusion through light.
Diagnosed with Schizophrenia in 1912, Lees struggled with relapsing episodes of psychosis.
Lees’ exploration was stunted by poor mental health, and he was confined to an asylum from 1918.

The Blue Pool is featured in Monet in Mind, a new exhibition at the Ferens Art Gallery in partnership with The Courtauld, London. Samuel Courtauld, the founder of The Courtauld, wrote poetry about the artworks in his collection. Following in his footsteps many years later, young people aged 16-25 from The Warren Youth Project in Hull, were inspired by The Blue Pool to compose their own creative writing to bring a new perspective to the artwork

Under the Water

Can a place be truly tranquil?
Is there something more hidden under the surface?
Enjoy it here,
a range of activities for the imagination-
swim, fish, read, write, dream…
Are you here alone?
Call of wild land,
myth and legend come alive-
maybe a selkie, come to swim and play,
maybe a kelpie, come in human form…
Dive into the still depths,
and tell your own tale
of what is to be found.

By Kelly Cartwright

Derwent Lees: An insight into the artist by Jess from Future Ferens

The painter Derwent Lees was born 1884 in Clarence, Tasmania to parents both of whom were born in England. Originally named Desmond, Derwent Lees took his first name from the river on which Clarence is situated.
He studied at Melbourne University and then briefly in Paris, before heading to London due to his sisters persuaded his father, William Lees, to send him there to study art. He attended the Slade School of Fine Art, an extremely influential art school at the time, between 1905 and 1908. He was taught by the artists Frederick Brown and Henry Tonks and studied alongside artists J. D. Innes and Augustus John, with whom he developed close friendships. The impressive nature of his work during Lees time at the Slade School allowed him to become one of the elite students to teach there from 1908 to 1918.

During this period, he created a lot of his characteristic work including The Blue Pool from 1911, a work which is included in our exhibition here at Ferens. Although Lees frequently travelled widely to locations such as Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia, he found a lot of inspiration on his own doorstep, travelling to Wales and Dorset to stay with Augustus John and paint- The Blue Pool depicts Dorset. Around this time, he had a studio in Fitzroy Square, Bloomsbury, where many significant figures in the arts and literature gathered.

Lees main subject was landscape to which he shared a lyrical response, painting on an unconventionally small scale focussing on fluid brushwork typically in oil or watercolour. The Blue Pool is characteristic of Lees colourful and expressive landscapes depicting a rocky sandstone shoreline. The landscape is comprised of flat shapes in varied shades of blue and green. The sky dotted with clouds of lilac and pink dominates the canvas with the prominent green hill range meeting the sky in the middle. The pale blue pool below reflects the sky and trees above. As we can see if we look closely, the oil canvas is signed and dated in the bottom left in green paint.

Lees’ painting style reflects that of the friends he surrounded himself with; there is visible influence of Innes and John with all three artists wild and mountainous landscapes united by intense and harmonious colours. Female figures were also prominent in the work of the artists and were usually depicted in a romantic and ethereal manner.
One of these female figures depicted frequently in Lees’ paintings, usually wearing clothes printed with floral designs and flowing skirts, is his wife Edith Gilbert (Lyndra) Price who he married in 1913. Lyndra had a significant calming influence on Lees bringing great joy to his life, something that is reflected in the paintings of her that oose adoration.
During his career Lees had many exhibitions both displaying and selling his works. Between 1911 and 1916 he was an exhibiting member of the Friday Club, a group consisting of many artists and which was founded in 1905 by Vanessa Bell. Lees went on to exhibit in around the UK at venues including the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.

As well as paintings, Lees completed many drawings throughout his life which many are now in the collection of the Slade School. His work had also been featured in publications such as ‘The Blue Review’ a volume to discuss literature, art and music, where ‘Two Figures’ are included. The style of which demonstrates how his talent did not only lie in landscape paintings.

Although Lees had been successful throughout his career, it was cut short due to a development of mental illness in 1918 from which he spent the rest of his life confined in an institution until his death in 1931. Despite his short career, during his time as a painter the works that Lees produced capture the overwhelming beauty and sensory experience we can feel when faced with an extraordinary landscape.