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Dorothy Rendell’s East End Portraits

December 28, 2017
by the gentle author

Since the publication of East End Vernacular, Artists who painted London’s East End streets in the 20th century, several notable artists whose work has never been seen have been brought to my attention, including Dorothy Rendell whose portraits it is my pleasure to show today

Dorothy Rendell trained at St Martin’s School of Art during the Second World War and was encouraged by Henry Lamb, Carel Weight and Orovinda Pissarro at the beginning of her career. While teaching art at Harry Gosling School in Whitechapel for forty years, she undertook portraits of her favourite pupils and, subsequently, drew people in the doctor’s waiting room at the Jubilee St Practice. These dignified and tender images, of which I publish a selection today, comprise an important social record of East Enders in the post-war years.

“When I started teaching I thought I would teach in the West End but they would not take women, so I had to move to the East End – but I don’t regret that at all because I got so wrapped up in it and there were all these places where I could go and draw,” Dorothy admitted to me.

“This little boy was one of the pupils I taught. A little horror! He’d been badly behaved – so the head teacher told me, ‘Take him and make him sit for you!’ So he had to sit still for about two or three days. I think I did a painting of him too”

“This is a nice little girl who had a terrible life. She was pretty and I liked her, so I drew her. I think I probably went to her house. It was squared up for a painting but I don’t know what happened to the painting. Children are very good to draw as long as they are not commissioned, when they are commissioned they are hellish. One mother came to me and wanted a portrait of her daughter. She looked a nice kid and I didn’t charge very much. She wore jeans, but when she turned up she was all dressed up – it was awful!”

“I used to give them their drawings. They used to beg me for them and were so persuasive that I used to hand them over, until one day a boy took my drawing and folded it up in half and put it in his pocket. I nearly screamed! They never did that in Italy, they treasure their drawings there.”

“This is Harry. Miss Parry, the head teacher, she adored this drawing. Harry was really thick and he used to look at you with that blank expression, but he was marvellously funny and he made a tremendous effort. Somebody who used to work with me said, ‘I’m going to bring Harry to Miss Parry’s funeral,’ and I said, ‘But he’ll be middle aged now.’ She found him and he came to the funeral. I couldn’t believe it. He was a lorry driver for Charringtons.”

“This was a little Afghan girl, I thought she was beautiful. She was a vain little girl who would sit for hours in the art room. Miss Parry thought it was better for pupils to sit with me than to sit and do nothing, so she would send the badly behaved ones to the art room and I would draw them. They liked being drawn, they were flattered by it.”

“I never had any absentees from my art classes, they were always very keen. As my head teacher used to say, ‘They’ll always go to art with you!’ They enjoyed doing it. There were always a certain number who could not draw, who found it very difficult. I would get them started making patterns but they would think they could not do that. So I would say, ‘Yes you can.’ I would get something like an electric light bulb and say, ‘Make some patterns from what you can see with that.’ – repeating and so forth. And they would come up with some marvellous things. Then they got keen. You have to think up strange things to get children really interested.”

“This little girl, I got to know her mother and father, and she went on to grammar school. The children of immigrants always did much better than the English ones because their parents wanted them to work.”

“This was Maksut. He followed me around for years to pose, even found me when he was twenty-eight and wanted to come and see me. He used to sit for hours. His mother went off, she was kicked out I think and he missed her so much. His father wanted another wife and she was downgraded. That was why I helped him. He was lonely and he wanted a mother figure. He used to come and see me. I did one or two paintings of him. Eventually, he got a job dying furs for gloves and jackets and things.”

“This was in the doctor’s waiting room. Quite a well known doctor round here invited me to draw there.”

Pictures copyright © Dorothy Rendell

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Dorothy Rendell, Artist

8 Responses leave one →
  1. Melvyn Brooks permalink
    December 28, 2017

    Fascinating. Does anyone know a contact number phone, e-mail or address for Dorothy Rendell? I am very keen to ask her a few questions. Thanks and a happy and healthy coming Year.
    Melvyn Brooks Karkur Israel brooks@netvision.net.il

  2. Helen Breen permalink
    December 28, 2017

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, thanks for following up with these great portraits by Dorothy Rendell after that excellent piece yesterday with her paintings. What talent! I wish her the best…

  3. December 28, 2017

    As I went down through the images, I stopped dead at “Harry”. His frontal pose, and those eyes!
    I am so glad that Ms. Rendell captured him in all of his youthful complexity, and I loved the accompanying story. Stories! Art! — This is why I look forward to this blog every day.
    Many thanks, and Happy New Year.

  4. December 28, 2017

    Her portraits are breathtaking. Valerie

  5. EJ Wilkinson permalink
    December 28, 2017

    Simply beautiful!

  6. December 28, 2017

    Great portraits, and very forthright opinions too! Your work in discovering East End talent is brilliant.

  7. Sue permalink
    December 28, 2017

    Wonderful portraits.

  8. Kitanz permalink
    December 30, 2017

    Oh Thank You for more paintings of Ms. Rendell. The are Amazing! Thank You!!

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