Artist Spotlight: Peter Samuelson
BY Christopher Harrity
January 11 2014 5:00 AM ET
The bulk of Peter Samuelson's work here from the 1950s and '60s consists of portraits of the lodgers in his mother's boardinghouse in Torquay on the English Channel. A zen-like calm exudes from the romantically colored canvases and drawings, and the line quality suggests the decorative sensitivity of Jean Cocteau, Cecil Beaton, and Christian Bérard. His work stands in sharp contrast to the art world's fixation with abstract expressionism and action painting of the '40s and '50s as well as the ironic pop art that began to push abstract expressionism out of the picture in the 1960s.
Samuelson (1912-1996) was not an ambitious art careerist. His family was well off enough to send him to Eton, where his artistic talents were encouraged, and then to study for a while in Paris. After art school he married and moved with his Dutch wife to Holland, where he worked as an illustrator. And after his divorce in 1947 he worked as an illustrator and set designer in London. The bulk of the work reproduced here was created after his divorce, while he was helping his mother run her boardinghouse in Torquay.
He was not by nature an very social person, and he was not interested in the contemporary art and gallery world. He sold some pieces to friends, and gave some as gifts to friends and models, but he never actively sought representation or to be exhibited.
In the 1980s, as his health began to decline, his friends placed work in galleries and as a result his work began to receive some acclaim. A book, Post-War Friends, was published, and it further boosted his reputation. Thomas Dane, a reviewer of the book, noted that “his working class lads [are] portrayed with a simplicity, respect and even a certain romantic grandeur.”