Brenda Mary Hugh-Jones

Brenda Mary Hugh-Jones

Female 1916 - 2007  (90 years)

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  • Name Brenda Mary Hugh-Jones 
    Born 31 Jul 1916  Cowley, Oxford Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Gender Female 
    Died 26 Jun 2007 
    Obituary 22 Aug 2007  The Telegraph Find all individuals with events at this location 
    'Brenda Rawnsley, who has died aged 90, made a unique contribution to the revival of interest in art and culture after the devastation of the Second World War by masterminding a "School Prints" scheme to bring original art to schoolchildren.

    A pretty and vivacious socialite who had lost her husband, Derek, in the war in which she herself had served in the WAAF, in 1945 Brenda Rawnsley embarked on an ambitious project to persuade well-known contemporary artists to produce high-quality lithographs which would then be printed on cheap paper and sold at rock-bottom prices to schools.

    "We are producing a series of auto-lithographs," she wrote to her chosen candidates, "four for each term, for use in schools, as a means of giving schoolchildren an understanding of contemporary art. By keeping the price as low as possible, we are able to bring this scheme within the reach of all education authorities? I wonder whether you are interested in this scheme and if so whether you could send us a small rough for consideration." The fee was £80 with a royalty of £5 for every 1,000 prints sold.

    In the prevailing atmosphere of post-war cameraderie, the artists responded enthusiastically; and an impressive number submitted sketches to a selection panel chaired by the art critic Herbert Read (a splendid Cat and Fiddle submitted by Michael Ayrton was rejected as "too frightening"). Within a year original prints by such artists as John Nash, Feliks Topolski, Tom Skeaping and David Gentleman were being snapped up by schools. Two major series were produced - in 1946 and 1947. At the height of the scheme some 4,000 schools subscribed.

    Most of the works by British artists were nostalgic and reassuring evocations of everyday life (steamers in a harbour; fairgrounds and circuses; scenes of ploughing and harvest; small-town life and domestic interiors), marking the high water of post-war optimism that culminated in the 1951 Festival of Britain.

    Encouraged by the response, Brenda Rawnsley embarked on a more ambitious project - to expand School Prints to embrace representatives of the Continental avant garde. In 1947 she borrowed £10,000 from the bank, hired a private aeroplane and set off for France. She discovered the spot where Pablo Picasso went for a swim every day in the Golfe Juan and, wearing her bathing costume and a large sunhat, she placed herself strategically in his path.

    The ploy worked. Picasso soon invited her to lunch and agreed to participate. The resulting lithograph, Composition, was an allegory about their encounter. With Picasso enlisted, Brenda soon persuaded Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, Fernand Léger and Raoul Dufy to follow suit.

    School Prints had been experimenting with a new transparent plastic material specially developed by the Ipswich printer WS Cowell to improve the quality and lower the cost of large-scale lithographic printing. Henry Moore had agreed to do extensive trials, and School Prints had become one of the early publishers of his lithographs; his Sculptural Objects appeared in the School Prints format in 1949.

    Brenda Rawnsley succeeded in charming all the French artists into trying the new material. All rose to the occasion, drawing original compositions directly on to portable plastic plates and personally supervising the proofs.

    But when Brenda Rawnsley launched her French series in 1949 she found that, while children and art critics seemed to like the prints, educationalists were less impressed. Indeed, a number of teachers had expressed reservations about some of the more modernist works in the earlier collections, and it seemed that Picasso and Matisse were simply too much for them. The consequent failure of the series left the company in debt and its publishing activities subsequently ceased.

    Yet for many children at school in the austere days of late 1940s and 1950s the 30-odd School Prints offered a first experience of genuine works of art. Needless to say all the prints, especially the French series, are now highly prized by collectors.

    Brenda Mary Hugh-Jones was born at Cowley, Oxford, on July 31 1916. Her father, Llewellyn Arthur Hugh-Jones, worked in the British administration in Egypt; her mother was a cousin of Anthony Eden. Brenda was brought up initially in Egypt and later in Greece. Although she did well at Queen Anne's, Caversham, she decided against going to Oxford, preferring the debutante life.

    At the outbreak of war in 1939, however, she enlisted as an ATS officer cadet before securing a posting as a clerk at the Ministry of Economic Warfare. She met Derek Rawnsley, a young RAF pilot, in 1939 and, after their marriage in 1941, she followed him out to a posting in Cairo as an intelligence officer, having negotiated her way into the WAAF.

    Brenda Rawnsley knew nothing about art, but her husband was an art lover and together they formed plans for what was to become School Prints. He had, in fact, founded a company in that name before the war, which hired out reproductions of Old Masters to schools. Her husband's death in an accident in 1943 only increased Brenda Rawnsley's determination to realise their joint dream.

    After his death she served as an intelligence officer in Palestine and later at the War Office in London, where she was involved in interpreting intelligence reports and attempting to predict the numbers and trajectories of flying bombs being launched by the Germans towards London. In the closing stages of the war she participated in a mission to the V2 factory at Niedersachswerfen in the Harz mountains, manned by starving prisoners of war, to unravel the technology of the V2 rockets for the Allies.

    She left the WAAF at the end of the war in the rank of squadron leader and picked up the reins of her husband's business. She expanded the hire schemes and went into publishing to supplement the availability of prints for the picture hire business. In 1961 she became the first woman Master of the Fine Art Trade Guild and was nominated Woman of the Year by the Observer in 1962.

    When, in 1971, the newspaper published the story of the French series in its colour supplement, simultaneously with Die Zeit in Germany, the remaining stock of lithographs was sold in a matter of days. Soon afterwards what remained of School Prints' business was sold to the Patrick Seale Gallery. Brenda Rawnsley retired to a cottage at Stradishall in Suffolk and worked as a librarian for a number of years. She later moved to Milford-on-Sea, where she lived happily for the last 20 years of her life.

    In Brenda Rawnsley's 90th year, a book was written by Ruth Artmonsky, The School Prints - A Romantic Project, and the English and French series of lithographs were put on exhibition at the Pallant Gallery in Chichester.

    She never lost her taste for adventure. On her 80th birthday she organised an expedition for 70 close friends to "thread the Needles" in a small ferry boat. In her mid-eighties she took a day trip to Croatia to swim in the Adriatic, and another to Norway to see the midnight sun.

    Brenda Rawnsley died on June 25. Her second marriage, to Geoffrey Keighley, was dissolved; she is survived by their son.' 
    Person ID I12815  Simpson & Elder
    Last Modified 18 Nov 2017 

    Family 1 Flt.Lt. Derek Lincoln Rawnsley, RAF,   b. 24 Nov 1912,   d. 22 Feb 1943  (Age 30 years) 
    Married 15 Feb 1941  London Find all individuals with events at this location 
    • 'RAWNSLEY - HUGH-JONES. On Feb 15 1941, in London, Flying Officer DEREK L. RAWNSLEY, R.A.F.V.R., youngest son of Noel and Mrs Rawnsley, Annacapri, Italy, to BRENDA MARY, eldest daughter of Llewelyn HUGH-JONES, Athens, Greece, and of Mrs Pelly, Kingsteignton, Devon.'
      (England, Andrews Newspaper Index Cards, 1790-1976)
    Last Modified 21 May 2013 
    Family ID F519  Group Sheet

    Family 2 Geoffrey (Pete) Keighley,   d. bef. 2007 
    Last Modified 28 Jun 2013 
    Family ID F690  Group Sheet

  • Photos
    Brenda Rawnsley (nee Hugh-Jones)
    Brenda Rawnsley (nee Hugh-Jones)


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