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Gwen and Fred Whicker: A Loved Local Couple

Gwen and Fred Whicker: A Loved Local Couple

In this collections highlight we draw attention to Gwen and Fred Whicker, two married artists who spent time living in Falmouth.

Whicker. Fred (1901-1966): Gwen in the Studio, signed, oil on board, 99 x 60 cms. Presented by Mrs E. Beecroft.

Gwen and Fred were founding members of the New Bristol Arts Club, and Gwen became its first president in 1933 when the club was established. The group regularly exhibited at the Royal West of England Academy. The couple moved to Falmouth in the 1940s, where they became well-known figures. Although of a high standard, Gwen’s and Fred’s work was not fashionable or progressive. Sadly they never made much money, but they still managed to survive on their art. Life was difficult for the couple in the early 1950s with rationing and the inability of artists like the Whickers to afford paint and canvases. At this time, they did much of their work on board and used basic frames. Times were so hard that Esme (Bailey) Beecroft recalled that the couple had kippers for their first Christmas lunch in Falmouth. 

In an article titled ‘Cupid and a Box of Paints’ from a Bristol paper in 1934, Gwen describes her and Fred’s life together:

“When Fred and I got married, we found lots of things about our flat which would make pictures, so we set about painting them… There is a lot of beauty in the kitchen – but milk, you know, has such a way of boiling over.”

In the same article, Gwen made a statement about her and Fred’s work which suitably sums up their work at the time:

“We are trying to make beauty out of everyday domestic life”.

Whicker, Fred (1901-1966): Sailing Boats, oil on board, 40.5 x 71 cms. Falmouth Art Gallery collection.

Falmouth Art Gallery would like to showcase Sailing Boats in celebration of Falmouth Classics, a multi-day regatta of racing, parades and onshore events in the Falmouth Bay and Carrick Roads areas. The Falmouth International Sea Shanty Festival takes place on the same weekend. It is one of the town’s most exciting and bustling times of the year.

The Falmouth Classics and the International Sea Shanty Festival 2022 will run from the 17th – 19th of June. 

Fred Whicker (1901-1966)

Fred Whicker was an Australian-born artist who moved to Britain in the 1930s. In the 1940s, he moved to Falmouth with his wife, Gwen. Fred began painting as a young adult and had an experimental approach, creating works of varied subjects and mediums. His work is more challenging to trace than his wife’s as it often did not survive. In the 1950s and 60s, he was possibly more recognised than Gwen as his work aligned with the changing tides of art that favoured less traditional methods. He experimented with form and colour, referencing Picasso and Braque in some of his work. But most paintings focused on Falmouth and St. Ives local scenes. Gwen’s teaching greatly influenced his early style of painting. Their work in these years was very similar in subject and style, focusing on academic realism in depicting still life, figure and landscape compositions.

Gwen Whicker (1900-1966)

Whicker, Gwen (1900-1966): Bosun’s Locker, Falmouth, watercolour on board
Falmouth Art Gallery collection

Gwen Cross was born in Bristol in 1900, the daughter of a painter and decorator. She studied at Bristol’s Municipal School of Art, paying her way by undertaking medical drawings for Bristol University. Alongside art, she also took an interest in working with silver, mainly jewellery and cutlery, which continued throughout her life and sold in Bristol and Falmouth shops. After art school, she gained a teaching qualification and then returned to Bristol Art School as a teacher. In an evening class, she first met her husband, Fred. Gwen was a Governor of Falmouth School of Arts (now University College Falmouth) and taught there part-time. Most of her early works were prints, particularly etchings, which she exhibited at the annual exhibition of the Royal West of England Academy every year from 1923 until 1935. Gwen also exhibited at the Society of Women Artists exhibition (June 1934) and the Royal Institute, Piccadilly. During the 1930s, she produced a series of major oil portraits and still lives.