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Born in Clapham on 4th June 1890, Stannus Gray was accepted by the Royal Academy in 1908 at the age of 17, where he was described as a favourite pupil of John Singer Sargent. Growing up in the last years of Queen Victoria and the ‘Long Edwardian summer’ before the First World War, Gray was not swept along with modernism like his contemporaries Hitchens, Brockhurst and Nevinson, but was more influenced by the likes of Clausen, Forbes, Lavery and Sargent, all of whom taught or exhibited frequently at the Royal Academy.
With the outbreak of war in 1914, Gray was enlisted in the 2nd London Regiment, and his life was jettisoned into the horror of the trenches. He survived a bullet wound to his chest in 1917, only to be wounded again on his return to the front in 1918. On his return to civilian life at the family home at 102 Kings Avenue, Clapham, he first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1920 with a work entitled ‘Trench Casualty, Flanders 1918’. Thereafter he worked tirelessly to establish himself as a portrait painter, exhibiting regularly at the Royal Academy, Royal Institute of Oil Painters and The Royal Society of Portrait Painters.
In 1925, on a trip to the South of France with his friends the Longstaffs, he met and fell in love with Miss Kathleen Chambers of Lincoln, who featured in many of his paintings during a lean period in his finances when he could no longer afford to pay models. They married after a six year engagement in November 1931, and returned to the King’s Avenue house where a flat had been created for them on the top floor. His daughter Virginia was born in 1933.
He was elected to the Royal Institute of Oil Painters in 1926, in the year of Sargent’s death, and to The Royal Society of Portrait Painters in 1933. The family continued to live in the Kings Avenue House, where the the lovely garden regularly featured in his works, until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. The Stannus Grey’s relocated to the Sussex coast, planting a garden at their new home incorporating both fruit and vegetables towards the war effort and the roses and sweet peas he loved to paint.
After the war, a steady supply of commissions eased the family finances, and Virginia was accepted at Brighton College of Art in 1949, where her father continued to teach. Douglas, Kathleen (also an artist) and Virginia would often go out painting as a family, to visit some new part of the country, a close and happy family of painters.
By 1950, the Clapham House, badly damaged during the war, was under a compulsory purchase order for demolition and development of blocks of flats, and had to be cleared. Gray’s health suffered increasingly from severe rheumatism throughout his later years, but he continued to paint with the assistance of his daughter, until his death on 2nd November 1959.His obituary in The Times praised his skill and stature as a portraitist continuing in the tradition of Sargent in style and technique.
Bellmans Paintings Specialist James Gadd comments “it is a genuine pleasure to oversee the auction process of such a significant collection, for an artist largely overlooked during his own lifetime”. When asked to summarise the collection with one word, James immediately replies “homely”.
The collection offered for sale by Bellmans includes portraits, self-portraits, interiors of both his Clapham and Sussex homes, garden scenes, still life works, and a large and splendid view of Lewes Crescent in Brighton.
The entire auction is on view from Friday 12th February, and will be fully illustrated online from Tuesday 9th February. Online bidding is available via the-saleroom.com. For more information and to register your interest, please contact Bellmans Auctioneers directly on 01403 700858, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.