Roderic Westwood Barrett was born in Colchester, Essex, in 1920, the younger brother of the acclaimed sculptor Oliver O’Connor Barrett (1908-1987). Unlike his brother, who was mostly self-taught, Barrett began his artistic studies at the Central School of Art and Design in 1936 for four years until 1940. There he learnt the craft of wood engraving under the renowned teacher and engraver John Farleigh (1900-1965), as well as being taught by Bernard Meninsky (1891-1950) and William Roberts (1895-1980). He then gradually switched from engravings to oil painting.
During World War II, Barrett became a conscientious objector, but unlike his father who had been jailed during the First World War for the same reason, he was exempted from active service (1). After the war with his wife, Lorna Blackmore, whom he had married in 1943, he moved to Colchester as a practicing artist. His teaching career, which began at the Central School, London (1947-1968), continued successfully, and he was invited to teach at the Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, USA, during 1957 and 1958. He then obtained another part-time teaching post at the Royal Academy Schools, London, where he tutored for nearly three decades between 1968 and 1996.
During his time teaching in London, Roderic Barrett also contributed to the Arts of his hometown, succeeding Cedric Morris (q.v.) as the president of Colchester Arts Society, a position he held from 1982 until his death in 2000. He had been a founder member of the Society, along with Henry Collins (q.v.), Arthur Lett-Haines (q.v.), John Nash (q.v.) and Cedric Morris (q.v.), and was made an honorary member in 1988. He exhibited in the first Colchester Art Society exhibition (Prodigal Son) in 1946 and had major exhibitions at the Minories in 1962, 1973, 1982, 1984 and 2006. He was also a trustee of the Colchester and District Visual Art Trust for five years from 1993 to 1997.
The Victor Batte Lay Foundation owns a painting by Roderic Barrett entitled Round Table and Three Chairs, painted four years after Moon and Cot (see link below). Colchester Art Society also owns a pencil drawing entitled Boots, Jug and Drawing [CAS 45] executed twenty years after Moon and Cot.
From 1993 to 1998 he was a trustee of the Colchester and District Visual Arts Trust and in 1997 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Essex.
Moon and Cot
An outspoken defender of what he called ‘authentic art’ Barrett remained fundamentally suspicious of Modernism and Post-Modernist art theories, disregarding modern trends as well as the landscape painting traditions of East Anglia where he lived for many years. His principal artistic vision was to create works which he called ‘well-made and without false feelings’, revealing his dislike of artifice and pretention. Working primarily on large canvases and using a muted palette, he chose to depict figures placed with simple objects of furniture in interiors shown with a high degree of formality, meticulously painted and disturbing. Despite his Anti-Modernist claims, he emerges as an artist with an interest in Surrealism, and concentrated on apparently straightforward domestic scenes which express undercurrents of fear and pessimism, and which totally eschewed any prettification. His biographer David Buckman claimed that Barrett was one of the most distinctive of twentieth century artists, a view borne out by the artist’s significant international reputation and important exhibitions, including a 1995 show at the European Parliament Gallery in Strasbourg and the retrospective at the Barbican.
Boots, Jug and Drawing
Exhibited in the Chappel Galleries at Cartwright Hall, Bradford in 2008 (2), along with a number of similar drawings, principally still lifes, this work may be preparatory for a later oil painting. The combination of objects here, as in many of Barrett's compositions, were personal motifs and often difficult to interpret. In all his art a wide range of different objects appears: bicycles, buckets, candles, clowns, coffee pots, jugs, ladders, tables and chairs, mothers and children among other things. Reluctant to put into words what these images meant to him Barrett made his pictures intriguing and mysterious. Even close friends and family members give out few clues. His daughter Kristin recalls ‘he did not like order in his life.' His son, Mark, claimed that Barrett's ‘primary concern was the painting itself, its design, form and balance,' while his wife commented: ‘if these objects could be meaningful to him they could also be accidental’, alluding to the artist's obvious fascination with Surrealism. This drawing of boots, jugs and a drawing of an umbrella invites speculation but eludes definite meaning, which is perhaps the artist's intention.
For further comments on Barrett’s work see David Buckman’s introduction to the exhibition organised by the Chappel Galleries in Bradford, in 2008 (see details in footnote).
The Society of Wood Engravers (1939-1940); The Royal Academy; Beaux Arts Gallery (1954 and 56) [S]; The London Group; Holland Park Gallery (1964) [S]; Alwyn Gallery (1966, 67 and 70) [S]; Thackeray Gallery (1976, 78, 80) [S]; Piccadilly Gallery; The Barbican
Essex and Suffolk
1946 to 1959 Colchester Art Society
1962 to 2006 The Minories, Colchester: 1962 [S]; Roderic Barrett’s Measure, Retrospective [S], 1974; 1984 [S]; 2006
1962 Gainsborough’s House, Sudbury
1966 Alwin Gallery, Long Melford
1993, 2000, 2003 and 2006, Chappel Galleries, Chappel, Essex
University of Essex
Rest of the UK
Cambridge (The Hilton Gallery, 1948; 1963) [S]; Oxford (Oxford Gallery, 1971, 1975) [S]; Chilham (1969) [S]; Harlow (1974, 1984) [S]; Goldmark Gallery; Norwich (The Castle Museum, 1974) [S]; University of Southampton (1975) [S]; University of Warwick (1975) [S]; University of Keele (1976) [S], also Manchester, Nottingham, Bristol, Bath
Brussels, Zurich, Nice, Nancy, Strasbourg (Parliament Gallery, 1995), Portagruaro, Llubljana
Boston (Shore Gallery, 1957) [S]; Exeter (Lamont Gallery, 1957) [S]; Princetown; New Hampshire; New York (Wildenstein & Co, 1961); Chicago; Pittsburgh
Works in Public Collections
Victor Batte-Lay Foundation
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (2004)
Colchester Borough Council (2007)
Victoria and Albert Museum
Universities of Essex and Southampton
Southend Museum Service; Chelmsford Museums
Ipswich Borough Council Museums and Galleries
Epping Forest District Museum
Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service
Beecroft Art Gallery, Westcliff-on-Sea
Lamont Gallery, New Hampshire, USA
Also private collectors in the United Kingdom, Eire, France, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium and the USA
BUCKMAN, David, Dictionary of Artists in Britain since 1945, Art Dictionaries Ltd., Bristol, 1998, p.112
PUTTFARKEN, Thomas, Roderic Barrett Obituary, The Guardian, Friday 1 December 2000
WATERS, Grant M., Dictionary of British Artists Working 1900-1950, Eastbourne Fine Art Publications, 1975
Royal Academy Exhibitions 1905-1907: A dictionary of artists and their work in the Summer Exhibitions of the Royal Academy of Arts, Volume 1, A-CAR, EP Publishing Ltd., 1973
Roderic Barrett: A Retrospective, 1996, Firstsite Publications, 1996
(1) Barrett’s paternal great-grandfather was a Nonconformist Radical and a Chartist. His grandfather was a Liberal and Congregationalist, and his father a Congregationalist and then a Quaker
(2) Roderic Barrett (1920-2000), an exhibition organised by the Chappel Galleries for Cartwright Hall, Cartwright Hall, Lister Park, Bradford BD9 4NS, 26th July 2008 - 7 December 2008