James Pryde on loan to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

The Monument, a painting by James Pryde features in Beggarstaffs: William Nicholson & James Pryde at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge until 4 August 2019.

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About this painting
A haunting scene of abandoned structures and dark threatening clouds, The Monument, a painting by James Pryde, is dominated by a monumental statue of a Roman soldier on a stone plinth. His arms and right leg are decapitated, and his chest smeared in blood-red paint. The figure occupies a recess of an architectural monument that stands in ruins. Surrounding broken structures dot the landscape suggesting that this may once have been a grand boulevard of statuary celebrating military or historical victories. A dejected band of figures walk by the statue, dressed in shabby clothes and clutching possessions. The taller figure in a hat, looks towards us, holding a long staff. Despite his concealed face, there is defiance to his pose that suggests a hint of determination to overcome his situation.

Pryde produced two versions of The Monument: the work featured here was painted c.1916–17, and a second later version is at the New Walk Museum & Art Gallery, Leicester. The violent shadow of the First World War and a sense of mass displacement of people during the conflict pervade the darkness of the scene, in which the figures resemble refugees of war. The painting’s mood also reflected Pryde’s personal circumstances. In the summer of 1915, separated from his wife and daughter, he began experiencing long periods of depression.

Who was James Pryde?
Born in Edinburgh, James Pryde spent most of his life in London, living a bohemian life to the full. As a teenager he started drawing classes at Edinburgh’s School of Art, and later attended life classes at the Royal Scottish Academy. Through the intervention of the Scottish artists, James Guthrie and E.A. Walton, Pryde studied briefly at the Académie Julian in Paris.

‘The Beggarstaff Brothers’
Returning to England In 1890, Pryde shared a house with his sister Mabel, who had recently married fellow art student, William Nicholson. For the next ten years, Pryde and Nicholson worked together under the pseudonym, ‘The Beggarstaff Brothers’, producing innovative commercial and theatrical designs. By the turn of the new century, Pryde concentrated on his own painting. His first solo exhibition (at the Baillie Gallery, London) did not happen until 1911 when he was 45. On show until 4 August 2019, the Fitzwilliam Museum’s exhibition ‘Beggarstaffs: William Nicholson & James Pryde’ brings together graphic works and paintings by both artists.

Later work
After the First World War, Pryde’s work attracted the attention of the philanthropist Annie, Lady Cowdray (1862-1932), who became a long-time supporter of the artist. She bought and commissioned eighteen works from him, including in 1919, the work featured here. Pryde exhibited regularly in London, and designed theatrical sets. However in the last decade of his life, his output declined. Suffering from ill health, the premature death of his daughter, and living in extreme poverty, he was admitted to hospital in Kensington in 1939 where he died three years later. Several decades later, Pryde’s singularly enigmatic style became more widely acknowledged. His dramatic scenes pre-empted both dream-like images of the Surrealist, Giorgio de Chirico; and the late 1940s post-war architectural landscapes of John Piper.

Further Information

Beggarstaffs: William Nicholson & James Pryde
Fitzwilliam Museum
Trumpington Street
Cambridge CB2 1RB

Telephone: +44 (0)1223 332900