Gilbert Mason 1913-1972

A brief biography and a collection of his paintings

Who was Gilbert Mason

Gilbert Mason was an artist and teacher. There seem to be a few hundred works existing mostly in private collections in the Midlands although there are probably rather more sketches in the hands of former students. There are several works in public collections. This website is occasionally updated as correspondents tell me more.
  • 1913 Born in Newport, Gwent.
  • One of four brothers brought up in an orphanage in South Wales.
  • 1930-34 Studied at Newport College of Art.
  • 1934-37 Studied at the Royal College of Art in London as an etcher, engraver and draughtsman.
  • 1938-40, started his teaching career at Leeds School of Art.
  • 1940-43 Served in the Military Police
  • 1943-45 Transferred to R.A.F. Medmenham, working for the Central Photographic Interpretation unit, (Model Making Section) of the RAF. His job involved interpretation of aerial reconnaissance photographs and making 3-D models of major military operational areas to assist with battle planning. These models played an important role in the planning of the Normandy Landings of June 1944.
  • 1945-49 resumed his teaching career at Leeds School of Art.
  • 1950-52 took up the post of Vice-Principal of Eastbourne School of Art.
  • 1952-70 moved to Birmingham College of Art where he stayed for the remainder of his teaching career finally becoming Head of the School of Painting.
  • 1970(?) Retired to Shirenewton in South Wales, several of the paintings in the collection date to his time there.
  • Gilbert was married but his wife died young of meningitis, he didn't re-marry although he was a charmer with an eye for the ladies. He had no children. (A former student tells me of college rumours of wife and children killed by WW2 bombing but I have no substantive information to that effect.)
Gilbert was:
  • Associate of the Royal College of Art
  • Associate of the Royal Society of Painters, Etchers and Engravers
  • Member of the Royal Birmingahm Society of Artists (RBSA)

Exhibitions

I an slowly finding more information about Gilbert's exhibitions. I believe several of the works in my collection were purchased at exhibitions in the Midlands in the 1960's.

'Winter Orchard' was shown at the 2nd Open Exhibition of Contemporary Welsh Painting and Sculpture at the National Museum of Wales in February/March 1955. It was one of nine pictures which the Welsh Committee bought for its prestigious Welsh Collection. The painting was later bequeathed to the Newport Museum and Art Gallery when the Arts Council of Wales dispersed the Welsh Collection in 2005.

'Landscape' (94" x 76.2") was shown at the 3rd Open Exhibition of Contemporary Welsh Painting and Sculpture in 1956. This was bought for 30 guineas by John Petts (the Art Director of the Welsh Committee) on behalf of the Contemporary Art Society for Wales and donated to Cardiff City Council. Royal Society of Portrait Painters 1972 ("Jan and Victoria, Shirenewton" #33)

Royal Society of Portrait Painters 1972 ("Rosa and Dick Bowen at Mynnedbach House, Shirenewton" #34)

Retrospective exhibition at Birmingham Polytechnic in 1974

Royal Academy 1973 ("Standing figure" #20)

1980 Timaeus Gallery catalogue

National Museum of Wales (Turner House in Penarth) April 1980. This was a posthumous exhibition which included most of the works I now have. Scans of the catalogue pages here

At various times Gilbert also sold work through the Ikon and Compendium galleries in Birmingham.

John Moore's Exhibition, Liverpool

One man show in Eastbourne

Arden Gallery, Henley in Arden

Various group shows in Birmingham, Bradford, Leeds, and London

Hexagon Gallery, Midlands Arts Centre, Birmingham

The paintings (and other works)

Early work included etchings, pastel, ink and watercolour. The "Self Portrait" 1936 (#1) has allusions to cubism and the well defined head shows his talent as a draughtsman.
The "Child in interior with Birdcage" (#2) of the same year retains the charming figurative approach of works by James Cowie (1886-1956). This was executed as a test piece as a submission for membership of the Royal Society of Etchers.

The larger body of later paintings are in inks or acrylic. They can be seen in the context of the revival of the romantic tradition in British art fostered by Herbert Read (1893-1968).
The "Twin nieces and their mother" of 1956 (#6) echoes some of the early drawings of Henry Moore (1898-1986) and the "Approach to a Welsh village" of 1960 (#14) tends towards the semi-abstraction of Ivon Hitchens (1893-1979).

Many of Gilberts paintings are under dark varnish. I have been asked about the possibility of removing this. My own view is:

What you are tempted to remove isn't darkened with age but will be as the artist intended. It is better to regard the varnish as a feature - if you live with one of the paintings you will find that the eye discovers more detail with the passing of time and the varnish adds a depth and atmosphere which is missing from some of the unvarnished works.

Contemporaries told of trying to get works away from the studio before Gilbert had time to get too carried away with more layers of varnish! You might regard the technique as broadly comparable with the photographic technique of getting sharp focus on the main object of an image while the remainder is intentionally out of focus. Subjectively I find that some of the unvarnished works feel somewhat unfinished by contrast!

The signature sometimes being on top of the varnish is further evidence that the dark varnish was deliberate.

One effect of the varnish is to make it very difficult to take good photographs of the paintings, that is why I am reluctant to post any here. However I have tried with some of those less challenging and if you are prepared to forgive some gross defects and ascribe the faults to my incompetence with a camera you can peek at a few here. I may make some more attempts in future and if successful will upload those here too. A second batch here again apologies for the poor quality photos but also some of these items are not in great condition.

The aim of this site

I had a collection of about 30 art works by Gilbert Mason in a variety of styles and media, I have sold a few but still have most.
The aim of this website is maintain interest in Gilbert's work and provide whatever information I can gather.
I have a collection of works by a number of other artists - Picasso litho, Renoir etching, John Piper - coloured inks, Sir John Millais (3 sketches), Giacometti (print) and a number of artists, mostly from the Midlands, mostly contemporaries of Gilbert. Limited space means I need to dispose of some.

It strikes me it may be useful to list some names in case anyone can enlighten me about those other artists: David Prentice, Peter Tarrant, Bruce Herne - and I need to go through the pile...!

Other collections/collectors

These are not necessarily available for public view but slowly works of art in public collections at least are being made available to view on-line.

I understand that the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery holds a painting by Gilbert Mason entitled Self Portrait 1951

Birmingham University has two works: Coastal Harbour with Yachts (1963) and Landscape (1963)

The RBSA has two works: Girl with Flowers and Nude Study in Bedroom normally in their archives but occasionally brought out for exhibitions such as part of the RBSA bicentenery celebrations 08 October 15 November 2014

The Towner Gallery in Eastbourne has six works: Hyde Park, Leeds, Gouache on paper (1948, a gift by the artist), Girl Looking in a Mirror, Etching on paper, Young Girl Seated, Etching on paper, Sick Child, Etching on paper, Portrait of the Artist, Etching on paper (another impression of the etching I have a copy of) and Crowlink Valley, Gouache on paper. My correspondent told me that the Towner hopes to get its entire collection on-line.

Another correspondent writes: "There are two very fine etchings by him in Birmingham City Art Gallery."

Diane Green, now living in Canada, tells me she has a much treasured drawing of a sleeping child which was given to her by Gilbert. Her cousin, now also in Canada, was one of his art students. In the 60s, Diane remembers Gilbert's studio adjoining the Edgbaston (Birmingham) home of the Reeves family who also have a Gilbert Mason collection.

As mentioned above 'Winter Orchard' was bequeathed to the Newport Museum and Art Gallery when the Arts Council of Wales dispersed the Welsh Collection in 2005.

'Landscape' (1956?) was bought by John Petts (the Art Director of the Welsh Committee) on behalf of the Contemporary Art Society for Wales and donated to Cardiff City Council.

See also the List of Lenders from Exhibition 3 (text pages) - bearing in mind that this dates back to 1974 so ownership may have changed!

I believe Mr & Mrs Reeves in Birmingham had a significant number of Gilbert's works, perhaps someone can tell me what became of that collection.

Links and Publications

A catalogue of publicly owned oil, tempera and acrylic paintings in Birmingham was published in May 2008 by The Public Catalogue Foundation - Winner of the 2005 Besterman McColvin Award for Outstanding Works of Reference.
There is a Self Portrait by Gilbert Mason on p.141 of the catalogue, and Coastal Harbour with Yachts (1963) and Landscape (1963) on p.254. The self portrait is at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the other two are at the University of Birmingham.
A correspondent tells me that Gilbert provided the illustrations for his father's book "Estuary"
Title: ESTUARY ISBN: 085469028X Author: Mills, Stuart
Publisher: Turret Books, London, 1971.
Description: First Edition. 20 pp. 8 vo, oblong wrappers. White printed dust wrapper. Turret Booklet Second Series, No.9. Illustrated with drawings by Gilbert Mason. Frontispiece, and five full page illustrations.
You may be able to find a copy here: Abe Books
  • Exhibition catalogue #1 (1980 Penarth)
  • Exhibition catalogue #2 (1980 Timaeus Gallery)
  • Exhibition catalogue #3 (images)
  • Exhibition catalogue text pages from Catalogue 3
  • Abe Books sometimes have copies of the book "Estuary" with illustrations by Gilbert Mason
  • The Public Catalogue Foundation Publishers of "A catalogue of publicly owned oil, tempera and acrylic paintings in Birmingham" which includes references to Gilbert Mason
  • Photos some rather poor photos of a few works
  • A second batch again apologies for the poor quality photos, also some of these items are not in great condition.
  • Photos more photos B&W
  • Some good quality photos on the BBC web site - showing paintings held in public collections.
  • Emails From time to time people email me with additional snippets about Gilbert's life and works.
  • if you can add anything to the information here. I own most of the works shown in the 1980 catalogue.