Still Life of Gourds with Japanese Celadon Vase and Dragon Decorated Plate, 1944
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fine art painting
fine art painting
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Denis Mitchell

English ( B.1912 - d.1993 )

Still Life of Gourds with Japanese Celadon Vase and Dragon Decorated Plate, 1944

  • Oil on Tea Crate Plywood Panel
  • Signed & dated 1944 lower left

Image size 17.5 inches x 13.6 inches ( 44.5cm x 34.5cm )
Frame size 22.2 inches x 17.9 inches ( 56.5cm x 45.5cm )


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Available for sale from Big Sky Fine Art in the English county of Dorset; this is an important, original oil painting by Denis Mitchell of the St Ives School, dated 1944 (during World War II).
Interestingly, the painting is on a cut plywood panel of a tea crate/chest.
The painting is presented and supplied in its original wooden frame (which is shown in these photographs) which is hand painted in household gloss paint.
We have chosen not to attempt to improve on this natural aesthetic of the frame.
This vintage painting is in good condition, commensurate with its age and is being supplied in an untouched condition with no cleaning, restoration or conservation. It is ready to hang and display.
The painting is signed and dated lower left. Mitchell's self-caricature is part of the signature.

Denis Mitchell was a British sculptor, painter and teacher; a consummate craftsman and one of the leading lights in the St Ives School. Initially a painter, he became renowned for his exemplary polished bronze sculptures. It has been said that no sculptor junior to Hepworth and Moore other than Mitchell made such a profound impact on twentieth century British sculpture.

Denis Adeane Mitchell was born on 30 June 1912 in Wealdstone, Middlesex. The following year his mother moved with him and his brother Endell to her home country, and they settled in the Mumbles, near Swansea in South Wales. Denis was brought up near Swansea and attended Mumbles Grammar School. He developed a zest for life and an interest in art, and went to evening classes at Swansea College of Art. At 17 he worked in a commercial art studio.

In 1930 Denis and his brother moved to Cornwall and initially earned a living renovating a pair of old cottages which belonged to an aunt, and developed an extensive patch of earth to set up a market garden at Balnoon, Halsetown. This provided an income and an introduction into the community which quickly adopted the young men. Denis began to paint seriously, inspired by his new surroundings, and engaged with other artists in the St Ives community.

By 1935 Mitchell was, in his own words, going ‘flat out in all directions’. He met local beauty Jane Stevens, and also travelled to Gibraltar and Tangiers with his brother to paint. He married Jane in 1939 at Towednack Parish Church, on the brink of World War II, and they went on to have a family of three daughters.

The war years were bleak for Denis, but also formative. He was conscribed as a Bevan Boy, working from 1942- 45 in Geevor Tin Mine near Lands End, and mined underground throughout the war. The experience of carving and hewing rock taught him a mastery of tools and knowledge of stone which later proved invaluable. It was during this time that Mitchell met the potter Bernard Leach and the critic Adrian Stokes through the Home Guard, and in 1946 he joined the St Ives Society of Artists, where he continued to paint.

Mitchell was always a working-class artist; unlike many of his contemporaries who had other means of support, he always had to make a living. From 1946-48 Mitchell supported his family by market gardening and sea fishing.

In 1947 Mitchell exhibited some of his work at Downings bookshop in Fore Street, St Ives and then with the help of his brother he organised the first show of modern art in St Ives at the Castle Inn. Over the next decade he became central to the St Ives Modernist movement.

In 1949 Bernard Leach suggested his name to Barbara Hepworth as a studio assistant at her new Trewyn Studio. An initial day of work led to a 10 year long collaboration in which he was her Principal Assistant. Mitchell supervised the creation of many of Hepworth’s best-known sculptures, and by the early 1950s he was starting to create some of his own work too. His association with Hepworth was a happy and productive one; he would later say of her that ‘she had an extraordinary eye… we carved side by side… I was her hands.’

In 1949 Hepworth, Mitchell and other abstract artists co-founded the distinguished Penwith Society of Arts in Cornwall; Mitchell was Chairman from 1955-57.

Mitchell left Hepworth’s studio in 1959 to strike out on his own, working initially from a studio in Fore Street, St Ives. Almost immediately he achieved national and international recognition for his striking abstract polished bronzes. He was also known for his calm demeanour, his diplomacy, and the central role that he played in the thriving creative community.

From 1960 Mitchel took posts teaching part-time at the Redruth School of Art and Penzance Grammar School. In 1967 he gave up teaching to commit to full time sculpture and moved to the larger Trewarveneth Studio in Newlyn, which he shared with his friend and fellow artist John Wells. The young Cornish sculptor Tommy Rowe came to work as his assistant and their partnership was a fruitful one, lasting many years.

In 1966 Mitchell won an Arts Council award, for his work in bronzes, woodcarvings and slate reliefs. In 1968 the Foreign Office commissioned a bronze sculpture for the University of Andes, Columbia, where he lectured for a month two years later, and a similar sculpture won Exhibit of the Month at the National Art Gallery of New Zealand.

In 1969 Jane and Denis bought a house, La Pietra, in Newlyn. Mitchel went on to become Governor of Plymouth College of Art and Design, and undertook a six year tour of work with the British Council, which took in Malta, Cyprus, Greece, Yugoslavia, Indonesia, New Zealand and Korea. In 1977 he became Governor of Falmouth School of Art.

Throughout his life Mitchell retained artistic links with South Wales, and often returned for holidays in Swansea and Gower. Despite spending most of his life in Cornwall, he always retained a slight Welsh accent.

Mitchell was a much-respected artist, and counted among his dear friends Ben Nicholson, Terry Frost, Bryan Wynter, Peter Lanyon, Patrick Herron and his mentor, Barbara Hepworth. Today this reads like a roll of honour of modern British artists.

Mitchell participated in many group exhibitions and had successful solo exhibitions in various London galleries, Oxford, Plymouth, Glasgow, Swansea, Bath and Farnham.

Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea, gave him a retrospective in 1979; Penwith Galleries, St.Ives, 1992 and Flowers East, 1993, during which he died, on 23 March, at Newlyn, Cornwall.

Today his work is represented in many public collections, throughout the UK including the Tate Gallery, the Arts Council of Great Britain, the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, and the Hepworth Gallery, Wakefield. He is also represented internationally including Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, the National Gallery of New South Wales, Australia, the National Gallery of Wellington, New Zealand and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, California, USA.

© Big Sky Fine Art

This original painting by British artist Denis Mitchell depicts a still life composition of two green gourds, a tall, fluted Japanese Celadon vase and a round flame red plate with yellow or gold dragon decoration. The vase shows a garden scene with two ladies in long dresses and has foliage decoration. The plate is a vivid flame red with images of three dragons in endless pursuit around a central decoration. The background of the composition is mainly green hexagonal tiles, with paler elongated triangular shapes beneath the vase and gourds. There is a very stylish and sculptural aesthetic to the whole painting.