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27 November 2014

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You are in: Manchester > Made In England > Pictures for the common man

Farm At Appley Bridge by Theodore Major

Farm At Appley Bridge by Theodore Major

Pictures for the common man

Painting for your audience, rather than for profit, isn’t always possible; after all, an artist has to eat! However, it was one of the goals of Theodore Major, whose paintings are receiving their first commercial exhibition since his death in 1999.

Major was born in humble circumstances in Wigan in 1908 and it was a place that had a strong influence on both his art and his attitude. He attended the local art school from 1927 to 1932, and taught there for 20 years until 1950.

Dark Industrial Scene by Theodore Major

Dark Industrial Scene by Theodore Major

He was president of the Wigan Art Club, which he founded in 1952, exhibited in Nottingham, Bolton and Manchester, and had solo exhibitions at Carlisle, Blackburn and Salford Art Galleries, the latter of which now holds his work.

Art for art’s sake

Major was a fervent Lancastrian, standing for all the values that a working class lad from a mill-town has instilled in him early in life; he was against materialism and the sale of his pictures to rich collectors.

As a result, he kept around 3000 of his pictures back from sale, saying that they were painted for ordinary people, not money.

It can’t have been an easy choice to stick with. The art critic and novelist John Berger called Major's pictures "among the best English paintings of our time", so it isn’t that his work wasn’t in demand.

Still Life with Blue Bottles by Theodore Major

Still Life with Blue Bottles by Theodore Major

It’s been said that he would have been bigger than that other great North West industrial artist, L S Lowry, if he had sold his paintings during his lifetime, but he stoically refused to adopt a commercial attitude to art.

Vivacious flowers, industrial towers

Stylistically, he was a painter of great variety. As Berger put it, he painted "to disturb and extend consciousness in the mind of the viewer". Best known for his vibrant flower pieces and his powerful industrial scenes, there’s a juxtaposition in his collection when looked on as a whole.

There are echoes of Lowry, in pictures such as Four Men Walking and Snowy Landscape With Factories, yet the likes of Red Dancing Nude With Flowers and Farm At Appley Bridge have such a loose freedom and vibrant colour that they almost seem to have come from a different hand.

Four Men Walking by Theodore Major

Four Men Walking by Theodore Major

Close to home

Major never strayed far from his Wigan roots and, in 1950, settled with his painter wife, Kathleen at Appley Bridge, where he lived until his death in 1999.

His paintings are now being discovered and admired by art collectors, though whether Major, a champion of the idea of art for the public, would be entirely comfortable with that is another matter.

Theodore Major 1908 - 1999 is at Gallery Oldham from Saturday 9 Febraury to Saturday 10 May. Entry is free

last updated: 23/04/2008 at 11:24
created: 15/03/2007

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