Leonard Russell Squirrell (1893-1979)
The man who painted 20th century Ipswich
Josephine Walpole described Leonard as "The Last of the Norwich School" in her biography of the man, as did Sir Frank Short RA, a former President of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers. There is no doubt that Squirrell deserves to rank with the likes of Crome, Cotman, Thirtle, Middleton and the Stannards.
Our Society has at last been able to gain agreement to celebrate this modest but extremely gifted Ipswich man. A Blue Plaque has been installed at the house where he was born, 82 Spring Road. This is particularly appropriate for a man who once wrote: "I am abidingly glad that my eyes look upon East Anglia as home. How much it means to me is demonstrated when I come back after journeys afield. As an artist I feel more satisfied with its countryside, its villages and architecture every time I return."
He worked abroad and in counties of England far and wide but spent most of his long life in and around the Borough of Ipswich.
He grew up living in the house in Spring Road with his elder brother, Sydney, his father and a housekeeper, Mrs Stringer. His mother had died of tuberculosis at the early age of 38 when Leonard was eight or nine years old. He had an enjoyable and energetic childhood and it soon became clear that he had great talent for the art of drawing. This is a talent that has become an undervalued skill in the fine art area these days. In 1908 he began his training at the Ipswich School of Art under the watchful tutelage of George Rushton, a fine artist himself, having exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1897 to 1948.
Leonard suffered from an unfortunate stammer all his life and very often asked questions of his tutors in the form of handwritten notes because of this impediment. His draughtsmanship and skill with a multiplicity of media did all the talking for him and he did eventually teach etching at the Ipswich Art School. He was extremely skilled as an etcher which is a real test of drawing skills and he produced the most exquisite aquatints, mezzotints and dry-points during his lifetime. In 1923 and 1925 he was awarded Silver Medals at the International Exhibition in Los Angeles for his mezzotints, 'The High Mill, Needham Market' and 'Notre Dame, Paris' respectively.
His work in pastels was also of a high order as can be seen in works recording scenes in Italy and France and in the beautiful 'Kersey Village Street, Summer Evening' (1928) which is in the Colchester and Ipswich Museums' collection. He produced very few oil paintings because he preferred watercolour and what he described as "the fluidity of that medium". He wrote books on both pastel and watercolour techniques. Josephine Walpole, a great local writer on art matters, has produced four books celebrating Squirrell's life and work, one of which included some of his original notes on etching techniques.
Leonard was a very prolific artist and produced watercolours for a number of commercial companies such as Rolls Royce. Local companies who used his work included Ransomes Sims and Jefferies and Fisons. Thanks to Annette Kenny (Leonard's daughter) I have copies of the preparatory pencil drawings made by him for a series of paintings for Fisons depicting their sites round the country.
These include local buildings such as Levington research station, the sulphuric acid plant towers at Cliff Quay and Bramford Works in Paper Mill Lane. The drawings are works of art in themselves and are annotated with his colour coding notes so that he could work them up into larger scale paintings in his studio. I cherish them because his notes clearly show the thinking steps which led him to create the finished work.
For twenty years he produced fine watercolour drawings for William Brown (Ipswich) to illustrate their company calendars and did similar jobs for Pauls and Ladbrokes. My first experience of seeing Leonard Squirrell paintings was as carriage prints on the former Great Eastern Railway trains of the 50s. He also produced paintings for railway posters which are much sought after by enthusiasts. Painters are driven to work and never really retire. At the age of 84 he produced a painting for Compair Industrial for their prestigious calendar and a series of limited edition prints.
Leonard was also a loving family man. He married his wife Hilda in 1923 and their first house was at 67 Foxhall Road. Later he needed more space and built a house and studio in Crabbe Street. In the meantime they had two children, Martin and Annette. Both of them were infected with what Hilda described as "the family disease" of painting and drawing.
Leonard Squirrell died in 1979 at his daughter's home in Uttoxeter, a man worthy of an Ipswich Society plaque - the grand old man of East Anglian painting.