‘Remarkable artist’ Turner’s Sleeping Ploughman

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by Jeannie Swales

This beautiful painting has a touch of Cezanne about it, but in fact it’s by British artist Bruce Turner.

Sleeping Ploughman is part of the Scarborough Collections, but if you want to see it in the next few months, you’ll need to take a trip to Liverpool, where it’s on loan to the Victoria Gallery and Museum at the University of Liverpool from tomorrow until May 31.

It is being shown as part of an exhibition called Nothing Beautiful Unless Useful, curated by Anna Colin, a curatorial fellow with the Contemporary Art Society. The exhibition draws works from public collections in the North of England and focuses on the relationship between industrialisation, art and social reform between 1880 and 1940.

It brings together three organisations - Manchester Art Museum (1886-1953), Leeds Arts Club (1903-1923) and social research organisation Mass Observation (1937-1949) - all of which were influenced by the thinking of leading intellectuals, philanthropists and practitioners of the time including John Ruskin and George Bernard Shaw.

Leeds Art Club was founded by schoolteacher Alfred Orage and textile manufacturer Holbrook Jackson. A bohemian outfit, the club met weekly, and its topics of discussion covered art, poetry, radical politics, suffragism, philosophy and spiritualism. Its members included the now much forgotten artist and, with her sister Isabella, co-founder of the Leeds Suffrage Society, Emily Ford; Jacob Kramer, whose haunting portrayals of Jewish culture cemented his reputation; and Eric Gill, the sculptor and artist, now better known as the designer of the elegant Gill Sans typeface and for his prodigious - and sometimes bizarre - sexual appetites.

Another, later, member was Bruce Turner (1894-1963). Little is known about Turner these days - as well as Sleeping Ploughman, his extraordinary futurist work, Pavlova, can be seen in Tate Britain, and his Van Gogh-esque portrait of Tom Heron is at Leeds Art Gallery, along with a moving depiction of a dying man.

But the Scarborough Collections is lucky enough to own two further paintings by this remarkable artist - The Spring of Truth, and a fine portrait of Scarborough hotelier Tom Laughton, at whose bequest the three paintings came to be in the collections.

Anna Colin believes it’s time to reassess Turner’s reputation and bring him out of the shadows. Let’s hope the Liverpool show goes some way towards that.

The Scarborough Collections is the name given to all the museum and art objects accumulated by the borough over the years, now in the care of Scarborough Museums Trust. For further information, please contact Collections Manager Jennifer Dunne on Jennifer.dunne@smtrust.uk.com or 01723 384510.