By the time of her death in 2008, the artist and arts administrator, Dorothy Bradford, had built an international reputation for her paintings and drawings of musicians and dancers. She lived and raised a family in Ilkley during the 1960s and made a significant impact on the arts scene in the district during this time.
At a memorial concert in 2008, the professional musician, John Turner, said of Dorothy:
I think she was probably the most distinguished painter and drawer of musicians this country has ever had. It was amazing – with just a few flicks of her biro she would capture the stance of a musician. You can look at the sketches as a mass of biro lines, but you can tell from those lines who it is – it’s fantastic really.
Dorothy was born, 1918, in Cockermouth, Cumbria. During her childhood, her family moved to Liverpool, where her father, Harry Bassano, was an art teacher. Dorothy inherited his artistic talent, but his death during her teenage years meant she had to leave school to work in a department store to help the family survive financially. However, she attended evening art classes at Liverpool College of Art.
In 1940 she married Don Bradford, who worked for the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, and when he enlisted and was sent to serve overseas, Dorothy found work in the visual art section of CEMA: the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Art – a wartime forerunner of the Arts Council. Dorothy moved to London to work at the CEMA headquarters, where she helped to organise exhibitions, catalogues and artists’ commissions. She attended evening life-drawing classes at the Central School of Art, run by Raymond Coxon, and at St Martin’s Art College, where she was taught by the painter, Ruskin Spear.
Living in London gave her an opportunity to attend concerts and ballet performances, where she became interested in capturing the movement of the dancers and musicians. She felt that music was, ‘…the most magical communication of the deepest feelings we have. It is utterly mysterious how it can go direct into someone’s inner being, across language and culture.’
Her work gave her access to the art networks in the city and she unobtrusively attended rehearsals – a practice that continued throughout her life – where the repetition of the dancers and musicians gave her time to study and capture, in fluid lines, the movements of the performers. The dancers she drew at rehearsals in London included Robert Helpmann, Frederick Ashton and Margot Fonteyn.
After the war she left CEMA and was reunited with her husband, now back in Liverpool after his war service. They raised a family and moved to Leeds, and later to Ilkley.
Although at a distance from London, Dorothy continued to promote the arts and develop her own art work. She was instrumental in promoting the Festival of Britain in 1951 and is reputed to have written to every MP urging them to support the idea.
Over the years she exhibited her work widely, including at the Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool; Royal Festival Hall; Royal Society of Arts; American Embassy in London, and also at the Lincoln Arts Center, New York, where she had a solo show.
Her talent as a painter of musicians was recognised by them and she was invited to observe, sketch and paint musicians at work. She was appointed official artist in 1971 to the New Philharmonia orchestra on tour in the US, and in 1975 was the official artist for the Leeds International Pianoforte Competition. Dorothy was particularly interested in the way the musicians came together as a creative unit. She noted:
My special concern is with the relationships of human beings one to another and their activities and environment – seeking out the shapes, colours, forms, rhythms, images, et cetera, which refer to the vital truths and laws underlying these complexities.
During her time in Ilkley, Dorothy worked as an arts adviser to the local council and was instrumental in establishing the Manor House Art Gallery in the town. An exhibition of her music related work, ‘Rhythms of Life’, was held at the Leeds School of Music in 2003, and in 2010 Bradford Museums and Galleries held a retrospective exhibition of her work at the Manor House Art Gallery, Ilkley, organised in association with the Kentmere House Art Gallery, York.
Subsequent moves of home after Ilkley were to Formby on Merseyside, and to Nantwich in Cheshire, where she lived until her death. The Nantwich Museum also exhibited Dorothy’s work in 2008 and she was helping to prepare the exhibition just before she died. A Daily Telegraph obituary after her death noted:
In her last years she continued to paint with undiminished vigour and there was a steady stream of appreciative art lovers to her door. They also came to enjoy her sense of humour, inspiring zest for life and wide-ranging conversation about art, music, life and poetry – as well as a glass of something good. Dory’s gift for friendship extended to everyone she met, whether artists, market stallholders, great musicians or her fellow swimmers in Nantwich’s open air brine pool.
Dorothy Bradford’s work is now in many private collections in the UK and overseas and can be found at the Royal Northern College of Music (see image below), Manchester; the Anglican Cathedral at Liverpool; the Victoria Gallery and Museum, University of Liverpool; Cambletown Museum in Scotland; the Cheltenham Art Gallery, and the Nantwich Museum.
Rhythms of life: Dorothy Bradford (2003) by Mary Sara. Catalogue of an exhibition held at and published by Hawksworth Art. ISBN: 9780954452100.
(I am grateful for the help given to me in preparing this profile by Ann Petherick of Kentmere House Art Gallery, York, who knew Dorothy Bradford and who worked with Bradford Museums and Galleries to mount the 2010 retrospective at the Manor House Art Gallery, Ilkley).