you know that Ralph Thompson, the Cookham Dean based wildlife
artist was an early television celebrity? Well, not so much Ralph – more the brush in his hand!
In the late 1950s a short slot before the news on the
BBC, entitled ‘Ralph Thompson draws an Animal’ would show
Ralph’s brush, to the accompaniment of a guitar, magically
creating a painting of an animal out of nothing on the black
and white screen.
part of this year’s Cookham Festival there is an exhibition
of Ralph’s work in the Parish Centre, entitled ‘Animal
Magic’, and on Friday Ralph’s step son Wyn, who has kindly
lent the works for the exhibition, gave an entertaining
account of the artist’s life and career at the talk ‘Ralph
Thompson: a very rare creature’.
Ralph attended art college in both Leeds and London
(spending a short time at the beginning of the Second World
War spray painting camouflage on factory roofs) before
settling locally and concentrating on his now well known
paintings of wild animals.
At first it seems he would spend a lot of time at zoos,
drawing from life, but later was lucky enough to travel to
South Africa, Nepal and India for inspiration.
The wonderful paintings of leopards, tigers, pumas,
cheetah kittens, lions and other exotic animals, hanging on
the walls of the Parish Centre are testament to his talent.
One of the most endearing was a colourful watercolour
entitled ‘The Leaf Umbrella’ which shows a young
orang-utan sheltering from the rain under a gigantic leaf.
Tyrell, himself a well known artist, then pointed out the
details of his friend Ralph’s technique, showing us the
shaving brush he had used to get the correct effect on ‘Guy
the Gorilla’! He explained that the swift sketches Ralph
produced ‘on location’ were like a visual shorthand as
animals move so quickly, and described in detail the ‘wet on
wet’ method of painting used by Ralph placing watercolour on
damp paper, a very precise art.
Chris also showed some lithographs produced by Ralph,
and Wyn remembered the enormous unwieldy machine needed for
this technique arriving at the family home at Bigfrith End and
taking over the dining room!
discussion which took place after the talk demonstrated the
high level of esteem that Ralph and his art are held in, both
locally and further afield.
Those present were then able to watch BBC archive
footage of ‘Ralph Thompson draws an animal’ on computer
and listen to an extract of Ralph’s voice talking about his
fellow artist and friend, Stanley Spencer.
must go to Tess Marsh and her team for organizing this event
and hanging the exhibition.