George Bissill: Derbyshire’s Forgotten Pitman Painter.
Exhibition: From Pits to Paris
A new exhibition of the artwork of George Bissill (1896 – 1973), Derbyshire’s forgotten pitman painter, is on display in the Lally Gallery at the Erewash Museum, Ilkeston, Derbyshire from 2nd September to 19th November 2021. A prodigy of the Avant Garde Movement, his time working in the pits influenced much of his early work. Townsend (2005) acknowledged Bissill as being one of Britain’s most important mining artists.
He started painting at an early age and his time spent underground provided the landscape for some his best artistic work. His brief time working in the pit was a lifelong source of inspiration. His mining work was characterised by a series of huge figures, crouching and kneeling as they worked underground, giving a sense of claustrophobia. Some of his early work was displayed at Ilkeston Arts Club and it predated the work of the famous Ashington Group of Pitmen Painters.
Fig. 4: Rev FW Cobb images and minutes from Ilkeston Arts Club as part of the exhibition, From the Pits to Paris: The Works of George Bissill. Photo Credit: MuBu Miner
In 1915, he joined the Army being stationed on the Western Front as a Sapper. This position made use of his mining skills in the trenches. He was invalided out of the Army in 1918 after being buried and badly gassed. He returned to the pits but left a year later on medical grounds.
Fig. 5. (Left) George Bissill publicity photo 1925 at the Redfern Gallery and (Right) Miners at work by George Bissill.
It was here he met Arnold Haskell, a ballet writer and critic, who took him to Paris. The Paris experience helped expand his style and subject matter. In 1926, Bissill experimented with woodcuts, a style of artwork with which he found great satisfaction. His first series of woodcuts were based on coalmining subjects, some of which were brought by South Kensington Museum.
Fig. 6: Examples of George Bissill’s posters for the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER).
Fig. 7. Civilisation Stories: The Art of Mining, BBC TV (2018) featured the pit paintings of George Bissill & input by his biographer, Kate Pattinson, (left).
Fig. 8: George Bissill: Life and Art by Kate Pattinson (2019).
Fig. 9: The Erewash Museum, Ilkeston, Derbyshire. Photo Credit – MuBuMiner
Fig. 10: Flyer for the Pits to Paris exhibition on at the Erewash Museum, Ilkeston, Derbyshire during the autumn of 2021.
Posted by MuBu Miner
14th September 2021
Civilisation Stories: The Art of Mining, BBC, Whitehead Media, (2018).
From the Pit to the Palette: George Bissill https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0654rkg
McManners, R. and Wale, G. Shafts of Light: Mining Art in the Great Northern Coalfield, (2016).
Pattinson, K. George Bissill: Life and Art, (2019).
Townsend, I, D. Coal Faces, Mining Lives: Portraits of an Industry and its people, (2005).