Gerald Spencer Pryse (1882-1956)
Lady at a window c.1920’s
oil on canvas, signed PRYCE lower left.
Provenance: the artists daughter.
A rare example of one of Pryse’s early paintings.
Gerald Spencer Pryse was born in Ashton and educated at Eton. Though he took no formal education at art school he spent periods of study under artists in both London and Paris. In 1907 he won first prize at the Venice International Exhibition. Early in his career he contributed work to The Strand Magazine, The Graphic and Punch, he also produced illustrations for books by E Nesbit, Henry Fielding and others. A strong socialist and member of the Fabian Society, his work was often politically charged and with humanist themes, demonstrated in posters for various humanitarian relief agencies throughout the first world war and its aftermath.
Pryse initially concentrated on printmaking and was well practiced in the techniques of lithography by the outbreak of The Great War. He captured scenes from the battlefields from 1914 and ultimately became the most prolific lithographic artist of World War I. Working initially under the patronage of The Queen of Belgium as a dispatch rider on the Belgian front, he had the freedom to record his observations directly onto huge lithographic stones, which he carried around the Western front line in his Mercedes, commentators at the time described him as ‘looking like he’d looted a graveyard’. He later wrote a memoir of this time ‘Four Days: an account of a journey in France made between 28 and 31 August 1914’ published by John Lane in 1932.
Pryse also worked with the Indian Army in France and several of his lithographs depict scenes of Indian troops. He subsequently served as a Captain in the Queen Victoria’s rifles, won the Military Cross at Passchendaele, was awarded the Croix de Guerre and was Mentioned in Dispatches. Pryse was torn between his obligation as a soldier and his potential value as an artist in the propaganda unit.
His repeated petitions to become an official war artist were protracted due to his military success and the reluctance of his superiors to release him, his socialist leanings were also a significant stumbling block. In 1917 he finally became an official war artist, one of just twenty six British artists to have been awarded the honour during WWI. When his sketches were later exhibited in London they were said to have ‘a freshness and authenticity that were not always apparent in the work of official war artists’, sadly much of his work was destroyed during the 1918 German Offensive, and even more destroyed when the Spencer Pryse house was bombed in World War II, after which time Gerald Spencer Pryse ceased to paint.
Pryse secured prestigious commissions during the war period, including poster designs for military recruitment, the British Red Cross, London Underground and The Labour Party. In 1924 he did a large series of work for the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, working alongside Frank Brangwyn to produce the official accompanying publication and on a monumental series of posters covered ‘the whole of the Empire in twenty four pictures’, designed to convey the extent and marvels of the British Empire. He also produced images for the 1928 and 1932 Olympics.
In 1925 he travelled and worked in Morocco and in 1928 he toured West Africa by car and river steamer to record scenes on the Gold Coast and Nigeria for The Empire Marketing Board.
Throughout his career he exhibited widely including at the Alpine Gallery, Royal Academy, Royal Scottish Gallery, Leicester Galleries and the Royal Glasgow Institute of Art.
His work was acquired by and is held by The British Museum, The Victoria and Albert Museum, The Louvre, The Uffizi, The National Portrait Gallery, The Royal Collection and others.