A romantic looking man, inclined to be moody and temperamental, gifted with artistic sensibility but somewhat erratic in his judgements. [The Times, Obituary, 2 July 1954]
Born in Glasgow, Tatlock was educated there at the Glasgow Academy, Glasgow School of Art and Royal Technical College where he studied art. During the First World War Tatlock was with the Friends’ War Victims Relief Committee (Quakers) in the Marne region of France and in Russia. He worked in the Marne operation with Margery Fry, sister of Roger.
In December 1920, Tatlock was appointed editor of The Burlington Magazine and remained in this position until July 1933. According to the Times, under his editorship the Burlington became one of the leading international art periodicals. In 1924 Tatlock married the painter Cicely Hey, pupil and friend of Walter Sickert and the subject of many of his portraits. In the same year Tatlock was appointed art critic of the Daily Telegraph after the death of Claude Phillips and continued in the post for the next 10 years. A prolific art writer, Tatlock was responsible for the catalogue of paintings and drawings in the Lady Lever Art Gallery at Port Sunlight and contributed articles on art and archaeology to publications such as the Athenaeum, the New Statesman and the Contemporary Review. Tatlock also translated from the French and edited books on Chinese, Spanish and French art. He revised Andre S. Blum’s A Short History of Art: from Prehistoric Times to the Present Day (Batsford, 1927). Tatlock was a collector too: According to Who’s Who in Art, in 1927 he owned some sixty works of art which included paintings by Constable, Sickert and Dunoyer de Segonzac.
Tatlock’s greatest legacy was believed to be the newly acquired financial stability of The Burlington Magazine and its widened international scope. According to his obituary, written by WG Constable for the Burlington: ‘Together with the counsel and active support of Roger Fry, Tatlock widened the scope of the magazine in order to attract new readers: he increased the amount of attention given to contemporary French art and added considerably to the amount of contributors, both British and foreign.’
The praise for Tatlock’s administrative and editorial efficiency is tempered by Constable’s severe criticism of his abilities as an art historian: ‘[Tatlock] would have been the first to say that neither by training nor by inclination was he a scholar […] his contributions to the Burlington Magazine were mostly editorial […] In thus limiting himself he was wise […] and it is perhaps unfortunate that he was sometimes tempted to enter fields for which he was not equipped.’
This judgement is perhaps too harsh, as the over one hundred and sixty contributions that Tatlock wrote for The Burlington Magazine are testimony to an inquisitive mind with a great talent for popularising art and engaging with the reader. Writing about an exhibition of Georgian art (The Four Georges in March 1931), Tatlock was able to evoke the atmosphere of a past era in one sentence: ‘Sitting in the deserted rooms of the house as I write, it would almost seem likely that the swish of silk and the crackle of corsets, the sonorous voice of the well-trained philosopher and the smell of burning tallow and snuff and face powder could be perceived.’ Tatlock’s editorial policy did take The Burlington Magazine into the twentieth century but his prose had still the Edwardian tone that characterised the magazine two decades earlier.
BP, November 2013
[with thanks to Anne Logan for information on Tatlock and the First World War]
Select Bibliography: ‘Mr. R. R. Tatlock’, Times, 2 July 1954. Tatlock, Robert Rattray, Who’s who in Art, London, 1927, pp. 228-229. W. G. CONSTABLE, ‘Robert Rattray Tatlock’, Burlington Magazine, September 1954, p. 291