A new exhibition at the Royal Academy exploring the work of the artist/architect Sir Hugh Casson (1910-1999) is opening, in London, in May. Casson bridged the often acrimonious gap in art and architecture between traditionalists and modernists, drawing Britain into the modern age, most notably as Director of Architecture of the 1951 Festival of Britain. As President of the Royal Academy from 1976 to 1984 he greatly rejuvenated the institution, above all as founder of the Friends of the RA membership scheme. This display brings to life his charismatic personality and will include dozens of his famously beautiful watercolours, sketches, architectural drawings, publications, children’s books, images of his buildings, illustrated letters, photographs and memorabilia.
Sir Hugh Casson trained at the University of Cambridge under the modernist architect Christopher Nicholson, with whom Casson would continue to work in London. During the Second World War, Casson’s training was put to practical use; he served in the Air Ministry’s Camouflage Service, designing the artful transformation of aircraft hangars into English rural buildings. These designs will be displayed alongside his engaging stage designs for theatre and opera, many for Glyndebourne. There will also be examples of his illustrative work for Midwinter Pottery as well as stamps and wine labels.
A captivating short film, Brief City, will be shown, in which Casson takes the viewer on a tour of the 1951 Festival of Britain. Already a well-respected journalist in newspapers and popular magazines, the Festival brought him even more into the public eye, earning him a knighthood at only 41 years of age. A year later, in 1952, he was creating the interiors for the Royal Yacht Britannia for the young Queen Elizabeth II, who had ascended the throne that year, and her naval husband, Prince Philip. Casson would then build a life-long relationship with the Royal family as the perfect architect-courtier. This exhibition will highlight some of Casson’s Royal commissions, including little-known vintage images of his work at Windsor Castle.
Casson’s charming character and leadership qualities made him one of the most loved and respected Presidents of the Royal Academy during his term of office from 1976 to 1984. He turned the fortunes of the institution around, bringing it into the modern age by increasing the number of exhibitions, setting up a new shop and establishing both an education department and the Royal Academy Trust, to aid sponsorship and funding. His other great achievement for which he is most remembered is the creation of the Friends of the Royal Academy membership programme, established on 1 January 1977. This body still provides enormous support to the Academy, which receives no funding from the government. In this exhibition, through archival photographs, illustrated letters and extracts from his published diary, Sir Hugh Casson’s presidency and personality unfolds, showing an artist and architect who had a significant impact on British art and architecture
Sir Hugh Casson was probably the most popular British architect of his time. As a man of great wit and charm, with a light and fluent touch in design and drawing, Casson bridged the often acrimonious gap which divided traditional and modern artists and architects in the mid to late twentieth century. His drawings and watercolours in this exhibition illustrate how his training in the 1930s as an early modernist was put to highly pragmatic use when during the war years he was responsible for camouflaging airfields. Thrust into the public eye as Director of Architecture for the 1951 Festival of Britain, Casson established his reputation as an architect with an optimistic approach to design, a deft hand at organizing and a winning way with clients. For The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh, Casson created the interiors of the Royal Yacht Britannia and suites of rooms in Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, many still in use today, modern blends of comfort and practicality.
Sir Hugh Casson PRA: Making Friends will explore the multifaceted artistic personality of one of Britain’s most popular architects of the 20thCentury, revealing a spirited and significant contribution to British architectural life from a man of great wit and charm.
Photo: Sir Hugh Casson PRA, The construction of the Dome of Discovery, 1951 Festival of Britain, South Bank, London, 1951. Gouache. (Collection of Alan Irvine)
SIR HUGH CASSON PRA: MAKING FRIENDS Tennant Gallery and Council Room 31 May – 25 August 2013