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You are in: Manchester > People > profiles > Hyde's unsung hero

Harry Rutherford painting on TV

Harry Rutherford painting on TV

Hyde's unsung hero

Harry Rutherford is seen by many in the art community as the unsung hero of the Lowry generation – a talented and charming artist who pioneered art on TV and travelled the world while never forgetting his Mancunian roots.

Remembering Harry

The Rutherford Gallery in Hyde Library opened on Weds 24 Sept 2008. A blue plaque dedicated to Harry hangs on the side of his former home at 17 Nelson Street.

Born on Market Street in Denton in 1903, Harry was immersed in art from childhood; his father William was a keen amateur who formed the Hyde Art Group with his friends.

So when Harry showed an aptitude for drawing, he was given plenty of encouragement and could often be found sketching the local beauty spots at Werneth Low under his father's tutelage.

Soon Harry was attending the Hyde School of Art on Saturday mornings and, upon leaving school at 14, he continued his studies by attending evening classes at Manchester School of Art, sharing the classroom with fellow student L.S. Lowry.

Harry Rutherford's Mossley Soup Kitchen (c) The Rutherford Estate

Harry Rutherford's Mossley Soup Kitchen

A jobbing artist

Of course, Harry also had to find himself employment. Luckily enough, he was able to put his talents to use in his jobs too. He started off at Olivers on King Street in Manchester, where he learnt lithographic printing and illuminating, before moving on to work at an interior designers who specialised in theatre work.

Harry soon fell in love with performance and the theatre, and would use the opportunity of being at the side of the stage to sketch the performers – a skill that would serve him well in his later career.

A friendship with Walter

By the age of 22, Harry was a proficient artist but he still wanted to learn more, so when he heard that the renowned and eccentric artist Walter Sickert was starting a class in Manchester, he was the first – and youngest – to sign up.

Harry Rutherford's The Mill Girls (c) The Rutherford Estate

Harry Rutherford's The Mill Girls

Walter and Harry quickly became firm friends, sharing a love of not only painting but also the theatre.

Such was Walter’s admiration for Harry that when he had to return to London few months later, he insisted that the young man take over his class.

Indeed, he even went as far as to refer to Harry as his "intellectual heir and executor" and, in 1927, offered him a position at his new London art school – which Harry had to turn down due to domestic responsibilities.

To London… via Penzance

Despite his decision, it wouldn't be long until Harry did find himself moving to the capital, though it wouldn't be by the most direct of routes.

Harry Rutherford's Northern Saturday (c) The Rutherford Estate

Harry Rutherford's Northern Saturday

At the time, Harry was employed as Head Artist at the Manchester Advertising Agency and produced topical cartoons for the Manchester Evening News, but an opportunity arose for him to move to Cornwall to devote more time to painting and do some teaching. Harry couldn’t refuse.

The opportunity also allowed him to develop his own style, distinct from his mentor Sickert’s. In 1930, he entered his painting 'Penzance' to the Royal Academy, who accepted it for their summer show. Commissions from the Duke of Devonshire followed; Harry had arrived as an artist.

As great as his painting was becoming, there was still a demand for his cartoons and the year after exhibiting at the Royal Academy, Harry moved to London to work on publications like 'John Bull' and 'Listener'.

Joining the BBC – and the RAF

Harry's ability to draw quick, accurate sketches brought him to the attention of Cecil Madden, a BBC producer, who wanted Harry to take part in his new show, 'Cabaret Cartoons'.

Cecil Madden

Cecil Madden

His job was to draw the performers live and keep silent – Cecil decided his Mancunian accent wasn’t the sort of thing that should be heard on the air!

He was a hit on the show, but the outbreak of the Second World War brought a halt to production.

Harry was stationed with the RAF, who employed him to paint skies in exact detail to assist in their camouflage training.

Alongside his war work, Harry continued to paint his own work, though sadly, much of it when his studio was destroyed during an air raid.

Back to TV and Manchester

Peacetime returned Harry to the screens and to a different attitude to his accent.

One of Harry's sketches (c) The Rutherford Estate

One of Harry's sketches

After working once more on 'Cabaret Cartoons', he was offered his own show, 'Sketchbook', on children’s television.

The series ran for six years, with Harry pioneering the idea of art being created live on TV long before the days of Rolf Harris and Tony Hart.

Yet, as successful as he was on TV, Harry found that he was longing to return to painting and teaching, and towards the end of his series, he moved back to Hyde, taking up a teaching position at the Regional College of Art in Manchester at the same time.

Harry's home in Hyde

Apart from a brief excursion to Borneo at the invitation of the governor – he became the first Western artist to exhibit in the country in 1957 – Harry remained in Hyde for the rest of his life.

Harry in his home

Harry in his home

In 1961, he was elected President of the Manchester Academy, holding tenure for eight years, while continuing to paint at his own studio.

That studio was in Nelson Street in Hyde, in the adjoining house to the Rutherford family home he had lived in as a child and which he now shared with his brother Donald and cat Sugden.

In 1985, after a period of ill health, Harry died, leaving a legacy of excellent paintings, many of which were of local scenes, and a collection of fantastic memories for anyone who knew the vivacious, humorous and talented man.

last updated: 25/09/2008 at 15:54
created: 25/09/2008

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