Painter of the Euston Road School who became an erudite teacher and an authority on perspective
Monday 07 August 2006
Bernard Arthur Ruston Carter, painter and teacher: born Kenilworth, Warwickshire 15 October 1909; Professor of Perspective, Royal Academy Schools 1975-83; married 1978 Jane Ford; died Mousehole, Cornwall 18 March 2006.
In a world where art merit is commonly judged by price and media coverage, artists and teachers like B.A.R. Carter get scant recognition. Yet a few shrewd peers know their worth. Several generations of students at leading London art schools benefited from "Sam" Carter's erudition, including many who have dominated British painting of the last half-century. If he had taught less, Carter would have been much better known as a painter.
In the 1930s Carter had met the Bloomsbury painter Duncan Grant, who was associated with the Euston Road School, founded in the autumn of 1937 and under the direction of Claude Rogers, Victor Pasmore and William Coldstream. Carter became one of the School's most regular attenders during its brief existence and, according to its historian, Bruce Laughton, one "of its most talented students".
The School's strict realist ethic and obsessive system of measuring was a legacy that was to influence English art education for decades. A notable characteristic was the small registration marks left on the finished canvas, irritating to many viewers and particularly evident in the work of Coldstream and Euan Uglow, the latter a painter much admired and collected by Carter. These marks were covered over in his own work, even though a scrupulous sense of proportion underlies the paint.
Pre-Euston Road landscapes and still-lifes by Carter could have a dashing, what he called "gutsy", quality that I remarked on when interviewing him some years ago. "I slapped the paint on then," he said. Such work prompted a Daily Telegraph reviewer of the time to call Carter "the coming man." But, "the Euston Road School ruined me," Carter rather surprisingly remarked. "It made me cautious. You got to depend on the measuring and couldn't do without it in the end."
He was born Bernard Arthur Ruston Carter in 1909 in Kenilworth, Warwickshire. His father, from a poor background, who became a schools inspector and history textbook writer of note, wanted him to enter the diplomatic service. So the groundwork was laid. Carter lived with a family in France and learned perfect French before gaining a good degree in the modern languages tripos at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, 1930-32. There were also studies at Grenoble and Innsbruck Universities.
But Carter was already developing a passion for art. Although he claimed no great natural ability, while at Cambridge he drew and created posters. His father suggested that he might eventually become a schools inspector, as a teacher offering languages and crafts. With a small allowance Carter studied cabinet-making, obtaining a City and Guilds School qualification, which in old age he told me "has stood me in good stead."
He also studied part-time at the Central School of Arts and Crafts. He was taught wood engraving by John Farleigh, other teachers being Fred Porter, William Roberts and Bernard Meninsky. "Meninsky would sit down and draw a figure, which showed you that you knew nothing and how brilliant he was."
He had begun in the antique room with the painter John Cooper, who from the mid-1920s at the Bow and Bromley Evening Institute had founded and run the East London Group which in the 1930s had a string of shows at the prestigious gallery Alex, Reid & Lefevre. Carter attended Cooper's Bow drawing classes and showed with the Group.
The Second World War that saw the disappearance of the East London Group and Euston Road School prompted Carter to join the Auxiliary Fire Service. Although this interrupted his art studies and painting, he did manage to paint a fine portrait of Basil Rocke, another Euston Roader, in Fire Service uniform.
Pasmore, who had complained that Carter's work was too "generalised" when he was interviewed for Euston Road, helped him join the staff of the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts in 1945. He remained for four years, taking several classes, initially one in the junior school "of 30 lads - riotous!"
Camberwell was heavily staffed by ex-Euston Roaders. When an exhibition "The Euston Road School and Others" travelled from Wakefield City Art Gallery, in 1948, and the Arts Council toured "The Euston Road School" in 1948-49, Carter's pictures were well represented.
When Coldstream moved from Camberwell to become Slade Professor of Fine Art at the Slade School, Carter in 1949 was invited to join the staff and remained for about 30 years. At first, he said,
I had no interest in perspective, so had to mug it up, also researching optics. The Graves Library
at University College, normally not easy to get into, had books in many languages on perspective and I would take them home.
Coldstream assembled an artistically and intellectually high-powered team at the Slade, including the art historians Ernst Gombrich and Rudolf Wittkower. Wittkower and Carter collaboratively published learned articles. Such scholars had a high regard for Carter, who became an authority on perspective, contributing a long and magisterial article on it for the 1970 Oxford Companion to Art. He would have liked to have written a book on the subject, he said, "but I hate writing".
He also became an expert on the work of the 15th-century Italian master Piero della Francesca, creator of some of the most serene images in Western art. Carter's analysis and his plan of the geometry of works such as the The Flagellation, in the Ducal Palace at Urbino, won wide critical praise and informed generations of students.
His teaching, scholarly researches and writing undoubtedly robbed Carter of easel time. He continued to enjoy painting landscapes when he stayed in Somerset with his painter friend Robert Organ and elsewhere. As well as the East London Group and Euston Road School exhibitions, he contributed to the London Group and for years his small, meticulous still-lifes were a feature of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.
Carter just failed to get elected to the Academy although, in 1975, on the recommendation of Sir Tom Monnington, he was made Professor of Perspective at the Royal Academy Schools, a post held until 1983. He offered the students a thorough course, although when I interviewed him he was dismissive of the perspective teaching. Maybe the times were against it. "You'd get a few who'd pursue it, but not many students were interested" by the time he left.
In 1978, Carter married Jane Ford, a young, Cornwall-based painter who had studied at the Slade, Carter among her teachers, and had modelled for Coldstream. Carter remained in the house in Frognal, Hampstead, which he had bought in the 1950s, until he moved to join her in Mousehole four years ago.
There he lived happily and, although in his nineties, his mind would "click back into action" in conversation, recalls Organ. Carter was able to lend some of his lecture notes to the painter Ken Howard, who was living next door. By an amazing coincidence, Howard was in 2005 appointed Royal Academy Schools Professor of Perspective, the position Carter had held with such distinction.
Carter is well represented in notable public collections. In his lifetime the Tate Gallery, Arts Council, Chantrey Bequest, Ministry of Works, London Museum, Contemporary Art Society and Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne acquired his pictures.
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