NEVER BEFORE HAS there been a publication devoted to Sydney Lee, an artist who, in his lifetime, was widely acclaimed for his paintings and prints of landscapes and architectural subjects that he sought out in his travels around Britain and on the Continent. The last exhibition to showcase his work was staged in 1945, four years prior to the artist’s death. Since then, his stature has been reduced to little more than a footnote in the history of 20th-century British art. His works have never been catalogued and his many, varied contributions to printmaking have received but scant appraisal. Long overdue, the present fully-illustrated publication aims to redress this significant oversight. Drawing on a broad range of prints and manuscripts, it attempts to reconstruct a life through art.
The Colosseum in Rome. A mountain fortress high in the Swiss Alps. The city walls of Segovia and the Basilica de San Vicente at Avila. Sydney Lee travelled near and far in search of such monumental subjects. He became known and acclaimed for his ‘studies of picturesque old buildings … rich in the patina and atmosphere of history’; but Lee was also a pioneer, an early exponent of wood engraving as a fine art medium, colour woodcuts in the Japanese manner, as well as tonal intaglio printmaking. A versatile painter-printmaker, he produced drypoints, aquatints, mezzotints, lithographs, wood engravings and woodcuts. Few artists working in Britain during the first quarter of the 20th century were in command of such a broad range of graphic media.
Lee was a member of the Royal Academy of Arts and the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers as well as numerous other professional bodies. His works are now represented – albeit rarely on view – in major museum collections from Australia and New Zealand to Canada and the United States of America. Yet despite his professional associations and the peer recognition he received in his lifetime, Lee never achieved lasting critical acclaim. The name he made for himself all but died with him. How could one of the ‘most versatile of artists associated with the Royal Academy’ so quickly fall into oblivion?
Robert Meyrick. Sydney Lee RA. Prints: A Catalogue Raisonné. (London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2013). 160pp. ISBN: 978-1907533402
Robert Meyrick. From the Shadows: The Prints of Sydney Lee RA.
Royal Academy of Arts, London. 27 February – 26 May 2013.
School of Art Museum and Galleries, Aberystwyth University. 17 June – 6 September 2013.