Charles Bartlett RWS, RE, ARCA (1921-2014)

Suffolk Reeds, 2007, Watercolour on paper, 10 x 13 ½ in, Signed

[CAS 63] Acquired in 2009



Charles William Bartlett was born in Grimsby, Lincolnshire, to Charles, a naval radio officer and Frances (née Robinson). His father died when he was six years old, after which he, his mother, and sister moved to Eastbourne, East Sussex, where his mother ran a small private hotel. After attending Eastbourne Grammar School, Bartlett attended the Eastbourne School of Art where he excelled and was rewarded by a scholarship to the Royal College of Art. Straight after school Bartlett took a job as an aeronautical draughtsman, but at the outbreak of the Second World War, decided to join the Royal Signals. In 1941 he joined the Guards Armoured Division, eventually losing the hearing of one ear. Upon demobilization, in 1946, he returned to London and began studying at the RCA where he spent three years in the engraving school, being taught by Robert Austin (1895-1973), the noted engraver and illustrator considered as one of Britain's leading printmakers. Bartlett was awarded a fourth year which he spent mostly in the painting school. In 1948, Bartlett married Elizabeth, a nurse, while still at the RCA and their son, Charles, who became a doctor, was born six years later.

On leaving the RCA after four years he taught on a part time basis at various art colleges in and around London including the Harrow College of Art, where he was a senior lecturer from 1960 until 1970. He was an inspirational teacher, very much involved in the work and development of young artists who much respected him. From the mid 1960's Bartlett was employed by print studios such as Editions Alecto (1) and had printed works for Norman Ackroyd CBE, RA, and André Bicât (1909-1996)(2) among others. During the 1960's his etchings, printed on his own Haddon press, were taken up by the dealer Anthony Dawson who sold them all over Europe.

In 1961 Bartlett was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers, later serving as vice president. He became Fellow of the Royal Watercolour Society in 1970, later serving as president for five years from 1987 to 1992.

By 1970 Bartlett's first marriage had ended in divorce and he married the painter and printmaker Olwen Jones. He then gave up teaching to be a full-time artist and in 1975 he and his new wife moved to Fingeringhoe, near Colchester. Their new life was full of commissions and collaborative printmaking, and they exhibited regularly together. It was originally on Robert Austin's suggestion that he should visit East Anglia that he ended up buying a wooden boat, dating from 1903, to explore the coast with its estuaries and marshes.

In 1997 Bartlett had a major retrospective of his work at Bankside Gallery. His last solo exhibition was held at Hayletts Gallery in 2014. His work can be found in public collections such as the V&A, The Albertina in Vienna, the Arts Council of Britain and the National Gallery of Australia.

He was instrumental in the introduction of watercolour courses at Bankside Gallery, London - a remarkable achievement and was a member of Colchester Art Society in the 1990s.


When asked about the inspiration for his paintings Bartlett used to reply that he loved "the light in East Anglia, the flat landscape and the estuaries which provide big skies and ever changing colours".(3) The East Coast was the artist's primary source of inspiration and his watercolours and etchings celebrate the stark beauty of its landscapes, for which he had such great feeling. Out in all-weather, with a sketchbook to hand, he would capture the ever-changing light and movement of the sea and later develop the images into watercolour paintings or etchings in his studio.

Bartlett was an exceptional painter and printmaker who brought the traditional seascape into the contemporary world of art. It is said (4) that he drew inspiration from Samuel Palmer (1805-1881), Paul Nash (1889-1946) and Graham Sutherland (1903-1980), all remarkable artists and printmakers in their own rights. Ruskin Spear (1911-1990), his tutor at the RCA and a highly regarded portraitist, was also a great influence by introducing to him the work of Walter Sickert (1860-1942), Carel Weight (1908-1997) and John Minton (1860-1942).

Having worked for many years in black ink, in the 1960's Bartlett later became one of the greatest innovators in colour etching, creating dynamic designs through the use of block colours. It was Stanley William Hayter (1901-1988), the surrealist and abstract expressionist, one of the most significant printmakers of the 20th century, who had been the major influence in this aspect of the artist's work.

This painting entitled Suffolk Reeds, executed at the age of 86, shows all these influences brought together: the love for the East Anglian landscape, the strong design, the bold and almost surrealist blocks of colour, the atmospheric sky. Altogether the perfect embodiment of Bartlett's approach to painting: "I express my feelings about the landscape ....I seek out the abstract qualities of my subjects".(5)  A truly remarkable and dedicated artist, much liked and admired by his contemporaries.

Selected Exhibitions

1956 Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne

1960 Walker Gallery, London

1971 Oldham Art Gallery; Zaydler Gallery, London; Dudley Museum and Art Gallery, Dudley, West Midlands

1973 Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne; University Art Gallery, Southampton 1974 Reading Museum and Art Gallery

1976 Victoria Art Gallery; Chelmsford Museum and Art Gallery

1980, 1982: A Printmaker's Retrospective, 1987, 1989: New Watercolours, 1993, 1996, 2001: Eightieth Birthday Show, 2003, 2005, Bohun Gallery, Henley-on-Thames

1984 Exhibition Tour:1 +1 (Olwen Jones + Charles Bartlett) included The Minories, Colchester; Usher Gallery, Lincoln; University of Durham; Oriel Theatre, Clwyd; Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne; Anthony Dawson, London

1991 Wherry Quay Gallery, Ipswich

1992 Featured Artist, The Royal Watercolour Society, London

1994 Printworks, Colchester

1997 Retrospective Exhibition, Bankside Gallery, London,

2000, 2003, 2006, 2008, John Russell Gallery, Ipswich

2004, 2006, 2009, 2011, 2014, Hayletts Gallery, Maldon

Also exhibited regularly at Colchester Art Society Summer and Winter Exhibitions and Royal Academy Summer Exhibitions

Works in Public Collections

Abbot Hall Gallery, Kendal

Albertina Collection, Vienna

Artothek, Düsseldorf

Arts Council of Great Britain, The Sea Wall

Beecroft Art Gallery, Southend

Bezirksamt Reinickendorf, Berlin

Birmingham City Art Gallery

Cambridge University Library

Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford

Department of the Environment

Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield

Greenwich Library

Kulturamt, Dortmund

Leeds City Art Gallery

National Gallery of South Australia

Norwich Castle Museum

Nuffield Foundation

Oldham Art Gallery

Portsmouth City Museum

Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne

Usher Gallery, Lincoln

Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool


BARTLETT, Charles, Starting in Watercolour, Bloomsbury, 1988

BUCKMAN, David, Dictionary of artists in Britain since 1945, Art Dictionaries Ltd, Bristol, 1998, p. 116

HOWARD, Ken, The Complete Artist: Painting and Drawing Better Landscapes, Still Lifes, Figures and Portraits, Juniper Books, 1992

SPENDER, Michael and GOODSELL, Don, Charles Bartlett, Painter and Printmaker, JWL ltd., 1997

Government Art Collection

Art UK

Hayletts Gallery

(1) Alecto's first major publication was David Hockney's Rake's Progress. It printed the work of many other pop art artists such as Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005)

(2) Andre Bicât (1909-1996) was a set designer for the theatre including productions at the Mercury Theatre. He was a tutor at the Royal Academy College of Art in London from 1966 to 1974 and had many solo exhibitions at the Bohun Gallery, Henley-on-Thames

(3) Hayletts Gallery, artist’s biography for Charles Bartlett

(4) Richard Bawden, “Charles Bartlett: Painter and printmaker whose explorations of the East Anglian coast inspired his dynamic abstract works”, The Independent, 20th February  2015

(5) Richard Bawden, as above