A recently discovered and exceptionally rare & important icon; egg tempera on plywood board, by one of Britain’s most important post-war stained glass artists, Lawrence Stanley Lee (1909-2011).
h: 30” w: 19” ex frame.
Depicting the two brother patron saints of shoe & leather makers, St Crispin & St Crispinian ; who lived in 3rdC Roman Britain. Also depicts the Croydon County coat of arms “Sanitate Crescamus” and that of Northampton town, “Castello Fortior Concordia”. Signed & dated verso for 1933 . This is an important & very early piece of work by Lawrence Lee and appears to have been a design for a summer fire screen (partial original label to back), possibly for his own or family use, or for an exhibition. Exceptionally few non-stained glass aretefacts by Lawrence exist or were ever made; and none it seems in the public domain.
Unlike the depiction of the Northampton Coat of Arms, the presence of the Croydon Coat of Arms is intriguing, as there appears to be no obvious link between the two, and certainly no obvious link between Croydon & shoemaking, whereas of course Northampton was known as the centre of the shoemaking industry in the early 20thC. Initially, the only link seems to stem from the fact that St Crispin & Crispinian, at some point in their lives, lived in Fakenham, Canterbury, Kent and there are similarities/links between the Croydon County coat of arms and Canterbury Cathedral. Further research however, has since revealed that Lawrence’s maternal grandfather was a shoemaker and that his mother lived in Croydon!
Lawrence Stanley Lee was predominantly a stained glass artist. In 1933, aged 24, he was working as a stained glass assistant to Martin Travers and also teaching part time at Bromley and Kingston Schools of Art. He was also briefly working in a co-operative with the well known artists, James & Lilian Dring, at the Southside Studios, Clapham Common, London; which is almost certainly when this design would have been executed. Indeed, an original business card for the Southside Studios quotes areas of work covered to include stained glass, pottery, decorative tiles, interior decoration, toys and furnishings. Lawrence’s main body of stained glass began after WW2 and the death of Martin Travers, and one of his most important commissions was for the design of ten nave windows for Coventry Cathedral in the 1950’s (which had suffered severe bomb damage), at the request of the Scottish Architect, (Sir) Basil Spence. Other important artists involved included John Piper & Patrick Reyntiens, amongst others. Lawrence was also Head of Stained Glass at the Royal College of Art.
As such, it is quite unusual for an icon to be painted by him in Western Europe in the 1930’s, icons were generally looked down on in Russia, almost thought of as "little better than pub signs". And, as a result of the Russian Revolution, what was deemed “traditional” Russian art was at best mothballed, and so called religious paintings were “recycled” for other, much more practical uses. So it would have been quite remarkable for Lawrence to have found someone to teach him the techniques of icon painting. At the time there were probably only two men in Western Europe that could have, in some way, enlightened or influenced him; Leonid Ouspensky and Pere Grigoire Krug, both of whom were Russian émigrés after the 1917 revolution. Another possibility is that he may have come across (at Oxford University) the Zernovs ( Nicholai and Militza) . Clearly, further research in this area is still required, as the techniques employed in this undoubtedly well painted piece, would not have been known by Western artists so early in the 20thC, as most did not know how to work with tempera.
PS This piece was rediscovered only a few months before Lawrence’s death in 2011 and we have since later learnt that his family have the original sketch drawing for this fire-screen.
My thanks to Pippa Martin and Edith Reyntiens for their help with the above. Pippa is a master stained glass artist; having originally trained with, and assisted Lawrence. Edith is an icon painter, teacher & specialist art restorer (whose father, Patrick Reyntiens is also one of Britian’s most important master stained glass artists). She was originally taught by Leonid Ouspensky.
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