Thelma Hulbert Gallery in Honiton, Devon

The Trafalgar Way is a commemoration of the race to get the news of Admiral Nelson’s famous victory in 1805, to the Admiralty in London. It records the horseback journey of Lieutenant John Richards Lapenotière through Southern England with the dispatches from the epic sea battle. Lapenotière’s journey from Falmouth to London covered 271 miles in 38 hours with 21 stops to change horses. Honiton in Devon was one of those stops after Exeter and is recorded with a bronze plaque. Looking through the history of Honiton this short change of horses appears to be the most memorable event in the history of this small market town, that even the A30 has had the courtesy to bypass.

The exquisite Thelma Hulbert Gallery was therefore a very pleasant discovery for us during our recent stay. Managed by East Devon Council this small gallery was opened in 1998 in Elmfield House, where Hulbert had lived from 1984 until her death. The Gallery houses a permanent collection of Thelma Hulbert’s work art gallery in addition to hosting a programme of contemporary art and craft exhibitions. One observation we made was the great enthusiasm the staff had for their project.

Victor Pasmore, Portrait of Thelma Hulbert, 1939, oil on canvas, 61cm x 51cm, Private Collection.
Victor Pasmore, Portrait of Thelma Hulbert, 1939, oil on canvas, 61cm x 51cm, Private Collection.

So who was Thelma Hulbert? Born in Bath in 1913 she came to London in 1934 and entered the bohemian lifestyle of Bloomsbury and Soho. Her studio in Charlotte Street had previously been used by John Constable and Augustus John. In London she became central to the Euston Road School as artist, model and administrator. Here she met lifelong friend, Victor Passmore, whose portrait of her is lovingly created. The Euston Road School were a reaction to the avant-garde and under the leadership of giants such as Sir William Coldstream championed social realism.

Thelma Hulbert, Honesty and Window, 1972, oil on canvas, Thelma Hulbert Collection, Devon
Thelma Hulbert, Honesty and Window, 1972, oil on canvas, Thelma Hulbert Collection, Devon

Pasmore moved to St Ives in 1939 and Hulbert soon followed joining the exodus of London Artists to Cornwall. Both were inspired by the likes of Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth. Pasmore, indeed, developed from the Euston Road style of realistic figurative work to become one of Britain’s most important abstract artists. Hulbert’s work changed as well but she retained her love of figures and nature. After the war she left Cornwall and returned to teach in London and St Albans. Retirement, in 1984, took her to Honiton and Elmfield House and her legacy gallery.

Thelma Hulbert, Palms, (date unknown), oil on canvas, Thelma Hulbert Gallery, Honiton, Devon.
Thelma Hulbert, Palms, (date unknown), oil on canvas, Thelma Hulbert Gallery, Honiton, Devon.

So, again, who was Thelma Hulbert. She always remained on the fringes of the Bloomsbury group, the Euston Road School and the St Ives world and became a highly respected tutor. As a virtually unknown artist, she had only two solo shows in London in her entire career. However one of these was a retrospective at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1962; Thelma Hulbert: paintings and drawings, 1937-1962. At this time The Whitechapel was earning its reputation as a truly innovative and respected modern gallery giving space in Britain to the likes of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and the becoming the birthplace of the British Pop Art movement. Her exhibition at Whitechapel was rewarded with an ATV Arts documentary in 1962, a short clip of which can be seen at the Honiton Gallery.

Thelma Hulbert, The Roof, Ischia, 1959, Honiton, Devon.

Her work in the permanent exhibition is shared with the Royal Albert Art Gallery and Museum in Exeter.

Still from Looking - The Paintings of Thelma Hulbert, ATV December 1962.
Still from Looking – The Paintings of Thelma Hulbert, ATV December 1962.

Some company she kept! We enjoyed the exhibition and especially appreciate the efforts of the Gallery to bring great art to the Devon countryside. Now we have moved to the West Country this will be a regular haunt for us.

Images courtesy of Thelma Hulbert Gallery website

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Susiexx says:

    What a find – we loved this gallery and will definitely visit again soon

    Like

    1. Thanks. Look out for The Trafalgar Way

      Like

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