Sonia Lawson - Paintings, Passions and Alarms; Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate

Lawsons highly evocative Night Reader

Lawsons highly evocative Night Reader - Credit: Archant

Harrogate’s Mercer Gallery hosts a major retrospective of an important Dales’ artist

Sonia Lawson was born into a creative and bohemian Wensleydale family; her mother, Muriel Metcalfe, and father, Fred Lawson, both being well-respected painters.

She drew from an early age, securing a coveted place at the Royal College of Art in the mid-50s, from where she graduated with first class honours. She went on to exhibit widely and was honoured to be elected as a Royal Academician in 1982; an achievement that impresses even more when you consider that she is the only academician ever to come from the Yorkshire Dales.

Now her work is being celebrated in a major retrospective, Paintings, Passions and Alarms, which brings together paintings from the 1960s to the present day with loans from a variety of collections including Museums Sheffield and Arts Council England.

‘This exhibition charts the essential relationship between Lawson’s work and her life experience, from the 1950s to the present,’ said curator Jane Sellars. ‘Her passion for painting coincided with maternal love, literary sensibilities and a powerful sense of political justice.

‘She explored various art media, but it is her large-scale oils on canvas, the big subject pieces, that soar with her powers as a painter.’

Paintings, Passions and Alarms is a journey through the range of themes in Lawson’s work, from her early landscape, rural and industrial pieces, which are bold and Expressionist in style, through to more personal explorations in her later creations.

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By the late 1950s, she was on her way to a brilliant career; her early years as a professional artist marked by scholarships, commissions, media attention and honours. She was one of four young artists – and the only woman alongside John Whishaw, James Howie and Allan Rawlinson – selected for John Schlesinger’s BBC TV documentary Private View, which ran as part of the Monitor series.

The horrors and oppression of war haunted her paintings throughout the 1960s, with works such as Figure at Dawn revealing the brutalising impact of conflict on people’s lives.

In the 1970s, the demands of motherhood and family diminished Lawson’s output, but still she grappled with the terrors of war, returning again to her theme in the 1980s with paintings capturing the excitement of life around Catterick Camp and Richmond, with works such as Garrison Town.

In that same decade, she also embarked on a new body of work in homage to Yorkshire’s great literary family, the Brontës, inspired by a trip to Haworth Parsonage and including a strong autobiographical narrative in paintings like Teatime at Haworth with the Brontës. w

Paintings, Passions and Alarms is at the Mercer Art Gallery in Harrogate from November 14th to February 7th. Admission is free.