Stanley Anderson Biography

Stanley Anderson





Paul Drury, an ex-pupil, remembered Stanley Anderson as a man who had 'no liking for modern art'; his practice was to record traditional English country crafts with print-making techniques that had become peculiarly English themselves in the 1920s and 30s. He may, then, have had mixed feelings about one of the eleven line-engravings and eight drypoint etchings he showed at the Biennale being bought by the King of Italy, and presented to Venice's Gallery of Modern Art.

At Merchant Venturfers' Technical College, Bristol, Anderson read widely, listened to music, and became 'determined to become a professional artist'. Instead, at 15, he was started on a heraldic engraving apprenticeship with his father, Alfred Ernest Anderson. Although Grant Waters notes 'as a result, [he was] not able to take up art seriously until 1909', it set him up for life with a solid ability to etch in metal, and, each week, left enough from his 6-shilling wage to pay for an evening class at Bristol School of Art.

In 1909, the British Institution of Engravers' 'open etching scholarship' provided him with £50 a year - essential considering he had neither the financial nor moral support of his parents in his choice of career. In London, he studied at the Royal College of Art under the technically brilliant Sir Frank Short, and Goldsmith's College, New Cross. Despite this expert instruction, Anderson always maintained he was self-educated, largely in the National Gallery and British Museum; Drury has double-checked this by reading the signing-ins in the Museum visitors' book. Albrecht Dürer's etching of St Jerome in his study with a lion became a particular favourite around this time, and one of the drypoints exhibited at Venice was a study of the German artist's Nuremburg house.

Later that year, Anderson exhibited the first of 214 pieces he would show across his career at the Royal Academy, 'a very good shop window', as he would later comment. 1910 brought steps towards comfort in what was a fairly hard, frugal life, as Frank Short invited him to join the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers as associate, and Lillian Phelps, a caring, supportive ex-nurse, married him in August. The couple had two sons, Ivan, in 1911, and Maxim, in 1914, who went on to become a highly-regarded documentary film-maker before his death in 1959.

Anderson wasn't sent abroad during the Great War; unfit for active service due to a weak heart, he was assigned to munitions duties near Woolwich. In peacetime, he returned with his family to Chelsea, where he undertook fashionable – and hence more profitable – topographical portraits and cityscapes. Drury points out 'although many of his subjects show his social sympathies, a certain wry, humorous irony creeps in, as in his few oil paintings, which depict 'types''. Pan in Fulham (1932), a scruffy city-dweller playing the goat-legged Greek god's mythical pipe, fuses this keen eye for the busy detail of city life with a love of the countryside's history, myths, and pastimes.

The 1920s saw his stock rise further: Frank Short had him promoted to Fellow of the Royal Society of Painter-Etcher and Engravers in 1923, and in 1925, he succeeded Malcolm Osborne as the engraving instructor at his old college, Goldsmiths'. Also branching out into woodcutting, he was fondly and respectfully remembered by students like the painter, printmaker and future Biennale exhibitor, Graham Sutherland, and Paul Drury, who is cited throughout this article. By 1930, he was made a member of the British Engraving Faculty at Rome; a post he held until 1952.

In 1933, he bought a cottage in Towersey, near Thame in Oxfordshire, and started the project he is probably best known for, 20-years' worth of engravings of country crafts. These were produced in editions of forty to sixty-five prints, and sold – often sold out – at the Royal Academy. The project intensified at the outbreak of war, when the Andersons sheltered from the Blitz in their country cottage. At a recent (2007) exhibition, Thame's Councillor David Bretherton described to the local newspaper how 'Anderson was very keen on recording country crafts including clamping (storing) spuds, sheep dipping, thatching and wood turning. He was concerned with the pace and nature of change and the amount of detail he gets into these prints is amazing.'

Anderson and his British contemporaries viewed his techniques as similarly native crafts; the 1938 Biennale exhibited engraving done in what Amy Namowitz Worthen called 'a very different manner from the [European] modernists, sustaining a connection with the past through a high level of craftsmanship, a sense of historicism and preservation of the print's intimate scale.'

In 1934, he was made an Associate of the Royal Academy, and in 1941 a full Royal Academician. He had also begun watercolour painting in 1908, successfully enough for his work to be sought out for Kenneth Clark and Arnold Palmer's Recording Britain series in 1939. Aside from the 2007 Thame exhibition, in 1995, London's Abbott and Holder held the first show of Anderson's work for 60 years.

Tom Overton, 2009.


British Council Fine Arts Committee, Minutes Book 1935-1953.

David Buckman, 'Stanley Anderson', Artists in Britain since 1945, Vol. 1 (Bristol: Art Dictionaries Ltd, 2006).

Campbell Dodgson, 'Stanley Anderson', in XXIa Esposizione Biennale Internazionale D'Arte – 1938-XVI: Catalogo [Venice exh. cat] (Venice: Officine Grafiche Carlo Ferrari, 1938).

Paul Drury, 'Anderson, (Alfred Charles) Stanley (1884–1966)', rev. Ian Lowe, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: OUP, 2004).