Hugh Cronyn, of French-Canadian parentage, was born in Vancouver, Canada, in 1905. It was not until he started attending evening classes in drawing, whilst working for the Anglo-American Tea Company in Toronto between 1923 and 1928, that he received any kind of training. It was this which led him to become a student of Franz Johnston (1888-1949), a Canadian painter and illustrator. In 1929 Cronyn had the opportunity to go to New York to study portrait painting at the Art Students’ League. From 1931 to 1933 he worked in Paris under the cubist painter, André Lhote (1885-1962), who advised him to “remain abstract but also concrete, that is to say a caricaturist in the noble sense of the word”. This was a piece of advice which he seemed to have followed ever after.
After travelling through France, Italy, Germany and Spain, Cronyn settled in Hammersmith, London, where he worked freelance with a group of talented painters such as Julian Trevelyan (1910-1988) and Raymond Coxon (b. 1896). A year later, in 1936, he held his first one man show in Toronto. In 1939, at the outbreak of the Second World War, Cronyn enlisted in the Thames River Emergency service, then a unit of the Royal Navy, being commissioned as Lieutenant Commander, RNVR (1). At the end of the war he was awarded the George Medal for bravery in bomb disposal.
In 1942 he married Jean Harris and in 1946 became Director of Art at the Architectural Association School of Architecture, remaining there until 1949 when, for the next twenty years, he became a tutor in painting at the Colchester School of Art, all the while receiving acclaim in Canada and holding one man shows both in Victoria (British Columbia) and Montreal. Cronyn later moved to Suffolk with his wife and two daughters. Throughout this period he frequently travelled to Canada, painting in Quebec, Northern Ontario, The Rockies and Vancouver.
By 1960 he and his wife bought an old farmhouse in Quercy, South West France where he was able to paint the landscapes he loved. In 1975 they moved back to Hammersmith Reach on the Thames where, in between visits to France, he painted until he died in 1996.
Hugh Cronyn was a Member of Colchester Art Society from 1958 to 1996 and was made an Honorary Member in 1974.
Cronyn often regretted not having the basic training that a traditional Art School would have offered, instead of having to learn his trade through experience and interaction with other artists. Thus Cronyn’s paintings often have a very tentative character. He can, however, be described as a lyrical and passionate painter, who, according to his contemporaries, was a pleasure to work with.
Chair and Fruit
Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) inspired generations of modern artists, including Cronyn, as can be seen here in this still life. In 1879-1880 Cézanne had painted a similar subject in an oil painting entitled a Plate of Fruit on a Chair (Assiette de fruits sur une chaise).In the same way as Cézanne used contrasting brushstrokes to create dimensions between objects, Cronyn here uses colours which isolate the objects making each independent. Light and shade and classical perspective have been changed to achieve a solid objectified form similar to Post-Impressionist tradition. As for the legs in the upper corner, they add an intriguing element to the picture, the artist leaving us to speculate who they belong to and what they are doing there.
1936 One-man show, Toronto, Canada
1948 One-man show, Victoria B.C., Canada
1950 (from), Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition
1957 One-man show, Montreal, Canada
1972 The Minories, Colchester, Retrospective Exhibition
1972 Canada House, London
1987 Phoenix Gallery, Kingston
1985, 1987, 1990, Phoenix Gallery, Lavenham
1991 Phoenix Gallery, London
1998 Air Gallery, Dover Street, London
2001 Highgate Fine Art
Bury St Edmunds Art Gallery, Suffolk
Digby Gallery, Colchester
Gainsborough's House, Sudbury
Nancy Poole's Studio, Toronto, My three countries
Royal West of England Academy, Bristol
Sandford Gallery, Covent Garden
Yehudi Menuhin School, Cobham, Surrey
Works in Public and Private Collections
Canada, France, Sweden, the UK and the United States
BUCKMAN, David, Dictionary of artists in Britain since 1945, Art Dictionaries Ltd, Bristol, 1998, p. 311
Hugh Cronyn: A selection of Paintings 1932-72, Exhibition catalogue, The Minories, Colchester, 1972
Hugh Cronyn information file, National Art Library, Victoria & Albert Museum, London
(1) The Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve which was created in 1903.