Clive Branson was a communist, poet, artist and soldier - he fought in the Spanish Civil War and died in Burma where he was serving in the British army during the Second World War. I blogged about him recently - and included copies of some of his paintings held by the Tate.
One of the nicest aspects of a blog is the way that one thing leads to another. So that posting helped put me in contact with Clive's daughter, the artist Rosa Branson - and a day or two back I called on her and had the privilege of seeing more of her and her father's art.
Both Clive and his wife Noreen were from wealthy families. They met in London, both uncomfortable with their privileged backgrounds. They married, went to live in Battersea and joined the Communist Party. Rosa tells me that she was named after 'Red Rosa' Luxemburg.
This is a self-portrait by Clive Branson which Rosa has on display at her home (she has given permission for all the pictures you see here to be posted). Rosa's father died when she was ten - one of the last things he said to her was to urge her to be an artist. That has been the biggest spur to her own highly successful and productive career.
Rosa told me of her great pride in her father - in his poetry, art, and more so in the qualities which shined through in his life and politics. She recalled that her mother once said how proud her father would be of her and her success as an artist - and that in turn gave Rosa a great sense of satisfaction.
I am really taken by Clive Branson's political paintings, mainly from the late 1930s - let me show you why:
This last painting, Rosa explained, depicts a wartime barrage balloon which was pierced and deflated over Battersea - and the escaping gas turned the air green.
The painting on the right is again Battersea - Rosa has photographs of these street scenes in more recent years. Can anyone help me identify where they are?
All these paintings have simply been photographed on an iphone - so I'm sorry that they do not do full justice to the originals, but I hope you will get a sense of the style as well as the subject matter.
Rosa also has what she calls her father's archive. His letters have been deposited at the Bishopsgate Institute and the Marx Memorial Library - but she has copies of all his correspondence, as well as the original of a letter, very precious to her, sent by Clive to his daughter during his war service in India.
There are also Clive's school caps - and, as you can see below, the cap he wore while fighting with the International Brigades in Spain, along with his cap badge and another badge from that era:
Rosa's own painting - she still paints for seven hours a day, and has completed more than 600 works - often draws on family history. Below are details relating to her father and his death from two different canvasses:
Rosa has visited her father's war grave in Burma - and his gravestone and the cemetery are shown in the detail above.
On the left is Rosa alongside the full canvas. In recent years she has painted these large story-canvasses particularly at the request of charities and lobby groups, both for display and as a support to fund raising. Her own family (including cousin Richard Branson), as well as friends, neighbours, students and local shopkeepers, often feature in the paintings.
Although Rosa describes herself as an atheist, several of her large paintings feature Christ, saints, angels, haloes, harps and all things celestial - with again those close at hand serving as the models. She recalls her granddaughter creating quite an impact when, while queuing up at the local greengrocers, she pointed at the shopkeeper and exclaimed: 'Look, Jesus!'
Wandering round Tate Britain the other day I was struck by a vibrant wartime painting of a Blitzed street, noted the name Clive Branson, and have now found my way here. Having written about Eric Ravilious, Paul Nash and other C20 artists I'm always on the lookout for interesting painters, and Clive's work is fascinating - strongly composed, painted with clarity and pleasure, and distinctive. Thanks for these posts, which have told me far more than the Tate website did!
Fifth painting down is the corner of Bullen Street and Battersea Park Road . . .
Really glad to find this info on Rosa and her father. Have recently discovered she is a "cousin" of my husband.
Does anyone know exactly when Noreen and Clive Branson left Battersea? I think they were probably bombed out. And can anyone identify the other Battersea streets in these pictures? The man selling the Daily Worker is my personal favourite because it belonged to my mother Margot Heinemann, and hung on the wall of my parents home when I was growing up. Noreen and Margot occupied adjacent flats at 99 Haverstock Hill NW3 later in the war. Margot and her sister Dorothy found a flat there after she was bombed out of a flat in Great Ormond Street in October 1940 but I am not sure when Noreen moved to Hampstead. Noreen Branson's original ARP card from 1939 can still be seen at the Bishopsgate Institute. She was appointed an Air Raid Warden in August 1939, covering Inworth Street, Bullen Street East Side and Battersea Park Road from Balfern Street to Bullen Street. It seems likely that she is the left hand figure in Clive Branson's painting, Bombed Women and Searchlights, which is at the Tate.
Hi Jane - have you seen that one of the other comments on this blog identifies the location of one of Clive Branson's Battersea paintings? AW
Thanks Andrew, both for the comment and the blog. Yes I saw the identification. I think several of the paintings are set in the same few streets in Battersea. Next time in London I will go for a walk down Battersea Park Road from Inworth St to Balfern St. What I really want to know is why and when Noreen (and possibly Clive) moved from Battersea to 37, 99 Haverstock Hill NW3. Were they bombed out?
My apologies, I come late to the discussion. However I am still still very much a Battersea Boy. Clive Branson's images remind me of stories told by my family, I was born in 1960 and the place was still a mess, albeit a proud mess. They had a flat, 193b Latchmere Road, facing the prefabs.Where a doodlebug had wiped out the houses, and the people. 30 yards from my family.
I am also interested in Margot Heinemann's time at Haverstock Hill. I am working on a biography of my mother, Helen Barnard (nee Davis), who was a friend of Margot's both at Cambridge and in London. Helen was at Girton 1932-1935 and a member of the Communist Party. She was librarian at the Daily Worker from 1938-1943 with a short period as a part-time Teacher of English at the Soviet Embassy when the paper was supressed, 1941/1942.
Helen did live in the flat at 99 Haverstock Hill for a period, leaving when she married George. Later Rosemary Heinemann, nee Spencer, moved in. Helen had already moved out by July 1943, though she probably still visited. The building was a state of the art steel framed one that was supposed to be safe in anything other than a direct hit, and indeed is still standing, restored to pristine white icing sugar modernism, I remember it as being slightly grubbier when it was pointed out to me when we visited Hampstead in the 1950s & 60s. There were two flats, 37 & 39 but they seem to have operated as a single household, consisting of Dorothy & Margot Heinemann & Noreen Branson. Helen lived there in the early part of the war Rosemary later. There are some details of life in the flats in Noreen's letters at the Bishopsgate Institute, though I do not recall whether Helen is mentioned. I would be pleased to help if I can, Henry. You can message me via Face Book.
According to the 1939 National Register, Noreen and Clive were at 310 Battersea Park Road. When I google mapped this address and looked at street view, I cam to exactly the view that is seen in the painting with the wartime barrage balloon. Thus:
Fascinating. Noreens ARP warden card is in the Bishopsgate Institute. Margot was bombed out of her previous flat at 71 Great Ormond Street on 16th October 1941. I presume she moved to the Hampstead flat soon after. Her sister Dorothy was a Civil Service and had been posted to Oxford early in the war but must have returned by then. Both Margot & Noreen worked at the Labour Research Department in Holborn (various addresses).
Hi thanks for posting thiss
Do you know whether he did any paintings while in India, and if so whether they are on display ?
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