Alan Clutton-Brock: Artistic Tendencies

Alan Clutton-Brock, sketch by Claude Maurice Rogers

For those who have ventured through the front door of Chastleton, it will not be a surprise to hear that the ancient building conjures up not Elizabethan ruffs, but the personalities of its last owners, Alan and Barbara Clutton-Brock.

Friends fondly remember Alan and Barbara's way of living as 'domestic disorder'. Long before he moved to Chastleton, Alan apparently liked to live 'among beautiful objects and chaos overlaid with dust and cobwebs'; a habit he kept up upon inheriting Chastleton from his cousin, Irene Whitemore-Jones. 

Alan was a keen writer, usually penning books on great artists. In the 1930s, he produced volumes on French and Italian painting and in 1955, the year he inherited Chastleton, he published the second of two volumes on Cezanne in collaboration with art critic, Adrian Stokes. 

Alan wrote articles for The Times and The Times Literary Supplement from the 1930s, and became its resident art critic in 1945; a position he held for ten years. His name was never published against his articles - anonymity must have been essential when reviewing exhibitions so as not to spook the exhibiting artists!

Alan Clutton-Brock's staff pass from his job at The Times newspaper
Alan Clutton-Brock's staff pass from his job at The Times newspaper
Alan Clutton-Brock's staff pass from his job at The Times newspaper

Alan's role at the newspaper was evidently a poorly kept secret as he is thought to be depicted in Richard Eurich's 1956 scathing group portrait entitled 'The Critics'.

Chastleton's contents reflect each generation of the family who inherited it, a curious blend of objects which help us unravel stories about its owners. The artwork introduced to the house by Alan, gives an insight into the artistic company he kept. Alan was on the fringes of the Bloomsbury group, a set of free-thinking artists and intellectuals, based in the fashionable Bloomsbury area of London between 1907-30. 

Two paintings in the Great Hall at Chastleton are by the prominent artist and art critic, Roger Fry. Like Alan, Roger Fry also wrote on the subject of Cezanne. 

A Landscape with Buildings by Roger Fry
A Landscape with Buildings by Roger Fry
A Landscape with Buildings by Roger Fry

Another member of the Bloomsbury group, Duncan Grant, wrote of Alan to Vanessa Bell in April 1930: 'I sat next to Alan Clutton-Brock - he is intelligent, this is I suppose and ultimate relief. But it's a pity one has to talk about painting to him'.

Alan had an enviable range of talents, not just as an art critic and writer, but as an artist himself. He was by no means an amateur painter. He painted what were described in The Times as 'meditative landscapes'.

A meditative landscape by Alan Clutton-Brock
A meditative landscape by Alan Clutton-Brock
A meditative landscape by Alan Clutton-Brock

He exhibited in a number of London galleries, including the Leicester Galleries, where Picasso and Matisse received their first British solo exhibitions, and he had a successful one-man show at the Marlborough Gallery in Old Bond Street in 1950. Alan also exhibited at the the Royal Academy between 1950-53. Many of Alan's works are in the collection at Chastleton, including landscapes, still life and portraits. His mother, Evelyn Clutton-Brock (neé Vernon-Harcourt), was also a successful painter, exhibiting at the Royal Academy and in shows with her son.

In 1955, Alan stood down as resident art critic for The Times and, returning to his old university, took the position of Slade Professor of Fine Art at Cambridge. This professorship focused on art criticism and was a 3-year post. He must have covered many miles, regularly travelling between Chastleton and Cambridge.

You can find out more about Alan's extraordinary life, and see some of his paintings and personal effects on display, when Chastleton reopens to the public.