Catherine Wallace wrote (1994) in her retrospective catalogue for the exhibition of works by Gwen and Fred WHICKER, that they 'never received deserved acclaim in their own lifetime, mainly because their art was not seen to be fashionable at the time….two highly competent representational painters who ran adrift on the rocks of the modernist movement.’
Gwen Cross was born in Bristol and studied art, against her parents’ wishes at the Bristol Municipal School of Art. She worked her way through studies by making medical drawings for Bristol University. A very skilful draughtswoman, she was always drawn to nature, portraiture, animals and birds, and these she depicted through the medium of printmaking and etching as well as oil painting.
After achieving her Diploma in Fine Art and a teaching qualification she taught at the Bristol Art School, where she met her future husband Fred Whicker. They were married in 1931 and lived in Clifton from that time when Fred was working as a printer until after WWII. During this period they both achieved their greatest acclaim, given impetus by the formation of the New Bristol Arts Club (1933), of which Gwen served as President. Their first exhibition was held at the Royal West of England Academy, where Gwen had shown work previously, and Fred had also exhibited one work in 1931. The 1930s were in fact to be their ‘golden period’ when academic painting of their sort was still appreciated. The war broke that success.
The couple moved to Falmouth, Cornwall shortly after the war and lived on Woodlane. They exhibited at the RCPS and associated themselves with the St Ives Society of Artists. But the modernists were beginning to hold sway, and their work was overlooked. They continued to paint still life and domestic scenes, and Gwen to make silver jewellery for sale in shops, but they had virtually no money for working materials, and lived a very impecunious existence.
Gwen served as a Governor of the Falmouth Art School, and they both quietly continued to work at their paintings, exhibiting and selling when possible, and mainly with STISA.
Painter in oils, etcher, engraver, silversmith, printmaker, teacher
works and access
Works incl: Doors, Camellias, Still Life, September Profusion (1962) in Hypatia Collection
Long list in C Wallace catalogue.
Three paintings by Gwen are included in the Public Catalogue Foundation survey of 2007, as lodged in the collection of Falmouth Art Gallery.
RA; SWA; New Bristol Arts Club
In Cornwall: RCPS, STISA
1994: Retrospective, Falmouth Art Gallery, March 1994
New Bristol Arts Club (president)
Falmouth School of Art (a Governor)
St Ives Society of Artists
misc further info
Buckman (2006) Artists in Britain since 1945, Art Dictionaries Ltd
Hypatia Collection of Women's Art
Public Catalogue Foundation (2007) Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly: Oil Paintings in Public Ownership
C Wallace (1994) Retrospective catalogue for exhibition, Gwen Whicker, Fred Whicker, Falmouth Art Gallery