I’m shortly to run a series of sessions on the subject of ‘Women in Art’. Female depictions of women and male depictions of women and draw some contrasts and comparisons, if there are any. ( George Bissell miner soldier artist )
Coincidence being as it is, I stumbled across an interesting article in one of the national dailies.
George Bissell was an English artist miner and furniture designer.
At the age of 13 George was sent down the mines, his family having moved from his birthplace in Gloucestershire, to the mining village of Langley Mill in Derbyshire. (Full bio here at Wikipedia)
Then came WW1 and George joined the King’s Royal Rifles, but his time in the trenches was soon changed to time under the trenches. Because of his mining experience he was sent to be a sapper, digging and destroying mines under the enemy trenches.
A tunnel collapse and later gassing, he was demobbed in 1918.
Using his army pension he became a student at Nottingham School of Art and from there his art career started. He is best known for his art works on mining.
However, in 1928 he was commissioned to paint 4 canvasses to decorate the Heanor Technical School in Derbyshire. But subsequently, the head teacher, Ralph Stoddard and the school’s governors believed his work would cause the school’s pupils to become overstimulated.
Indeed, the one surviving work of his original four shows exposed ankles, the outline of breasts and short skirts and women in tender loving poses. Thus the fear that boys may be adversely influenced by this alarming indecency and hence the works were deemed not suitable for the school.
All but one of the works in question were destroyed by a most disappointed Bissell. But the surviving picture has recently been found and now hangs at the Erewash Museum, Ilkeston, Derbyshire.
To me this picture highlights the complete contradiction between the horrors of the war, of working in the mines and the impact on human psyche and the complete hypocrisy and shallow mindedness, overprotection and head in the sand attitudes of the male hierarchy in question. It was fine to educate the boys at the school to become warriors and miners but show them a woman’s ankle and that is forbidden territory.
My sincere thanks to the Erewash Museum for sending me a JEPG of the surviving banner and allowing me to use it for this blog.
George Bissell miner soldier artist