The Early Canvas
Drawing and painting became an essential part of Noël Coward's later life. The results are as valuable and informative as his diaries and autobiographies. They reflect his life at home and abroad and are best viewed in the context of his written words and personal photographs of the period. That is the way we are attempting to present them here. Not an easy task as the paintings are undated. The geography is the best indicator of the time and place for each work, often approximate, but certainly defining periods of his life when his travels were at their height or his various homes were enjoyed.
Friends who had stronger artistic talents, such as Philip StreatFeild, when Noël was a boy, and later Churchill and Winifred Ashton (Clemence Dane) had a real influence on his work. There was the move made from watercolours to oils - although later Noël was to suffer an allergy to oils and painted with his hands in plastic gloves or bags.
Then the dominance of scenes infested with people including a pair of nuns that became a regular, if little understood, feature. Lastly the dramatic change to primary colours that documented his life in Jamaica, paintings that are arguably his best work. Noël encouraged his companions to paint because he believed it could offer them the peace and relaxation that he enjoyed so much.
Noël Coward (14 years) with Philip Streatfeild.
A sketch of Noël Coward by Philip Streatfeild
Early Watercolours and
"Noël Coward, boy artist: though he was never to carry on with the caricatures, he did return in later life to the easel and painting was to become the last great non-professional occupation of his fifties and sixties."
Noël Coward and His Friends.
His letters to his mother and his early friend Esme Wynn Tyson were embellished with drawings.
"In the Twenties he took up the hobby seriously but career pressures left little time for it. He began painting again in the Thirties 'in watercolours, usually seascapes with ships in sepia or low-toned keys,' Cole Lesley wrote."
Noël Coward A Biography
Painting in the style of Edmond Dulac
"G.B. Stern remembered, 'Both at the same time we had been seized with a passion for doing what was not our job. . . Noël sold me the painting he did that morning for £1 18s 6d. The sum shows clearly that bargaining took place, and that his original valuation was £2 . . . It really might be a good deal worse: a rather solid yet Whistlerish effect of dark blue archways across the Seine at night. He called it "Where the Bee Sucks".'
Noël Coward A Biography
On one Sunday when Noël visited Churchill at Chartwell he was 'commanded' that he switch from watercolours to oils a change that produced his first atmospheric painting in that media, an impressionistic canvas of a woman with a dog on a leash walking across a beach (below).
Noël created studios at his homes at White Cliffs and Goldenhurst.
". . . he and Cole Lesley trawled junk shops for Victorian pictures to paint over, blithely ignoring the possible value of the canvases." Philip Hoare - Noël Coward A Biography
Writer Gladys Bronwyn (originally Bertha) Stern who wrote many novels, short stories, plays, memoirs, biographies and literary criticism.
The talented writer, artist and sculptor, Winifred Ashton (Clemence Dane) painting at Blue Harbour, Jamaica.