Charles Bartlett: Painter and printmaker whose explorations of the East Anglian coast inspired his dynamic abstract works

With fellow RCA students, Bartlett was part of the movement seeking meaning and purpose through abstraction from the living landscape

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The Independent Online

Charles Bartlett was a dedicated artist who sought his inspiration through the freedom of spirit and emotion he gained walking or sailing the emptiness of the East Anglian coastline. The stark beauty, haunting light and big open skies became his spiritual home for over 60 years.

Out in all weather, Bartlett, known as "Bob", captured the brilliant, ever-changing light reflected from the sea, and the movement of the tides. Always with a sketchbook to hand, he made numerous drawings and took notes; he never painted on the spot. These images were later developed to be a watercolour or an etching in his studio – with Siamese cat at his side and wide views across the Roman River valley beyond.

With fellow RCA students Edward Middleditch, John Bratby, Jack Smith and John Ward, he was part of the movement seeking meaning and purpose through abstraction from the living landscape.

He drew inspiration from Samuel Palmer, Paul Nash and Graham Sutherland and flourished under his tutors Ruskin Spear and Robert Austin, who taught etching. It was through etching that he took a visual idea into print and using several colours, produced exciting and dynamic designs. "I express my feelings about the landscape, studying the geographical formation and erosion of the beaches," he wrote. "I seek out the abstract qualities of my subjects.

"Since a very early age painting has been my life; it is the most enjoyable, yet most heartbreaking thing I know."

Bartlett was born in Grimsby in 1921. His father died when he was six and he moved to Eastbourne with his mother and younger sister. He attended Eastbourne Grammer School and Eastbourne School of Art. An exceptional student, he gained a scholarship to the Royal College of Art. The war intervened and he spent four years in the Guards Armoured Division before taking up his place in the School of Engraving. After the three-year course he was awarded a fourth year in the painting school.

While at the RCA he got married to Elizabeth and they had one son.

It was Austin who suggested to Bartlett that he should visit East Anglia; it captivated him and he bought a boat in which to explore the coast, estuaries and marshes.

On leaving the RCA he had part time teaching posts in London art schools, and in 1960 became Senior Lecturer in drawing and painting at Harrow School of Art; an inspirational teacher, much respected by his students.

Already well established as an innovative printmaker, in 1961 Bartlett was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers, and later became vice president. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Watercolour Society in 1970, giving up full-time teaching to be a full-time artist. In 1975 he moved to Fingringhoe, near Colchester, with his second wife, Olwen Jones, herself a painter and printmaker.

He was elected president of the RWS in 1979, and served a full five-year term.

Bartlett had a major retrospective at the Bankside Gallery in 1997 and regular one-man exhibitions at East Anglian galleries. Despite the tragic death of his son, from a heart attack, in 2010, he continued to paint; he had his last exhibition in 2014.


Charles Harold Bartlett, artist: born Grimsby 23 September 1921 ; married twice (one son, deceased); died 19 December 2014.