Richard “Pippin” Heseltine was born in 1914 in Wimbledon, Surrey. Heseltine went to Charterhouse which he left at the age of 16. His father, Conrad Pelham Heseltine MBE, a stockbroker in the City of London, expected him to follow in his path and that of his family ancestors, but Heseltine preferred outdoor life and after Charterhouse spent a year and a half on a farm in Hampshire learning to plough and sow and to build corn ricks and haystacks. He also learnt about lambing with a Hampshire Down flock. Then, following his father’s advice, he went into fruit growing and spent a year on a fruit and hop farm next to East Malling Research Station in Kent (1). His father then bought him a small farm in Newington, near Sittingbourne, North Kent, where he grew apples until 1939.
On the 3rd of September 1939 he was called up to join his chosen regiment, the 3rd Hussars, where a cousin was already serving. It is then that he got his nickname “Pippin”. He stayed with the 3rd Hussars for 6 years, during which he distinguished himself greatly (2), being awarded the Military Cross in 1944. On the 15th of November 1945 he was demobilised, this marking the end of his army career.
After the war Heseltine farmed in Hampshire for 9 years. This is where he met his wife Jean (née Hepburn) (3) with whom he had three sons and a daughter. In 1955 he took up fruit farming at Willow Tree Farm, Assington, Suffolk, where he died in 2012.
Heseltine was a member of Colchester Art Society and Gainsborough’s House Workshop. The 3rd Hussars Museum in Warwick, holds some of his work, mainly sketches he drew during the war. His stone carvings are in churches at Little Cornard and Assington, both in Suffolk.
Before he joined the army Heseltine was already a talented artist, a talent inherited from his father’s family. His aunt, Phyllis Heseltine ASWA (1882-1970), was a watercolorist and children portrait painter of renown. Other family members included John Postle Heseltine (1843-1929), the printmaker and Philip Arnold Heseltine (1894-1930), known as Peter Warlock, the composer. Heseltine studied art part-time, for one term only, with William Otway McCannell ARA RBA (1883-1969) at Farnham School of Art in the early 1930’s and regarded himself as “a self-taught amateur”. He taught art at a boys’ prep school, Old Buckenham Hall, at Brettenham, Suffolk, and at Little Cornard, near Sudbury, also in Suffolk.
During World War II Heseltine fought in North Africa, Cyprus and Italy, among many other places (4) and, despite being in the thick of the action, painted and drew the fields, trees and landscapes around him with great accuracy, with the keen eye of a countryman (5). A number of these sketches and paintings, as well as war scenes sketches, were later used to illustrate his memoirs published in 2001 as Pippin’s Progress (see below for bibliographic details).
Later in life Heseltine, who experimented in various media, including sculpture (6), painted still lifes and nudes with strong and vibrant colours and wonderfully fluid brushwork. However it is his charmingly delicate, almost romantic landscape paintings executed during the war which exemplify best his work as an artist, a work which was described as reminiscent of Samuel Palmer by Ray Rushton. Provencal Farm, although painted after the war, has all these qualities.
1963 Letchworth Museum and Art Gallery, Solo Exhibition of Sculpture
1976 The Minories, Colchester, Heseltine, Blakiston and Hay
1991 Quay Theatre, Sudbury
Colchester Art Society
HESELTINE, Major Richard, M.C., Pippin’s Progress, a Soldier Artist’s War, illustrated by the author, Silver Horse Press, 2001
(1) The East Malling Research Station was an organisation known internationally for its research on perennial fruit crops.
(2) During WWII he was a skilful, dashing, and unorthodox tank commander, and when he announced to the city of Orvieto the surrender of the German forces in Italy, he was awarded on the spot the Freedom of the city by the delighted mayor.
(3) Richard advertised for a dairy maid and Jean, who had left the Wrens and was looking for change of scene, applied.
(4) He also went to Sierra Leone and West Africa, Palestine, Lebanon, The Sea of Galilea, Nathania and Greece.
(5) He took his art material everywhere in a little detonator box with small sketchbooks and paper in his map case.
(6) At the age of 97 he was still chiselling large blocks of stone and creating cats and sheep out of blocks of wood in his studio.