‘Art Celebrities’, an exhibition by Cicely Hey advertised in The Burlington Magazine

Starting from an apparently innocuous 1933 advertisement in The Burlington Magazine, Index Assistant Alison Bennett has uncovered much new material about Cicely Hey, a little-known British artist of the early 20th century. Here is where her research has been taking Alison so far.


In March 1933 The Burlington Magazine published an advertisement for an exhibition of portraits by Cicely Hey. The works were to be shown at the fashionable Alex. Reid & Lefevre, a London art gallery specialising in Impressionist and modern art [illustrated above].

NPG D34000; Francis Frederick Locker Birrell by Cicely Mary Hey

The exhibition, titled Art Celebrities, consisted of ‘a series of portrait drawings of men and women celebrated in the world of art’. Among them were a number of artists including Walter Sickert and Thérèse Lessore as well as names associated with The Burlington Magazine, both contributors and members of its Consultative Committee [Francis Birrell illustrated left, National Portrait Gallery, London]. Hey had a personal connection with the Burlington: she was married to its Editor, Robert Rattray Tatlock. The anonymous reviewer for The Times, commenting on Hey’s choice of subjects, stated that she not only painted portraits of artists but also of ‘the lesser breed whose lot it is to write about it in the papers’[1], among whom her husband could be included.

Today Hey is chiefly remembered as Sickert’s model. In his biography of Sickert, Matthew Sturgis offers the reader a delightful cameo of the relationship between artist and model. Fig.3Hey first met Sickert early in 1923 while selling tickets to a lecture on ‘Art’ given by Roger Fry at Mortimer Hall. Sickert asked her to sit for him the very next day, clearly taken by, as he described, her ‘funny little beautiful sane dear face’.   Sickert’s wife, Thérèse Lessore, agreed: ‘you’ve got just the kind of face he likes to paint’[2].   During a radio interview given in 1960, Hey recollected that she visited Sickert nearly every day for a year or more, always by telegram invitation, admitting that she was desperately shy and did not speak much for fear of not being asked to sit again.   This suited Sickert who would, laugh, sing and talk to her during the sittings, so that she would leave, her ‘sides aching with laughter’. Hey also described how Sickert fondly called her his ‘mascot’, nicknaming her ‘Kikely’, and reflected that she was probably the last to pose on the famous iron bedstead in the Fitzroy Street studio.   Over the course of 1923, Sickert painted seven portraits of Hey [Portrait of Cicely Hey by Walter Sickert at The Whitworth, University of Manchester, illustrated here on the right] and they remained constant companions for the next ten years[3].

During this time, Hey was also developing as an artist in her own right. Born Mary Cicely Hey in Faringdon, Oxfordshire, in 1896, the daughter of a doctor, she trained as a painter at the Brussels School of Art, and in London at the Central School of Art and at the Slade School of Fine Art where she spent a year studying drawing and painting (1919-20)[4]. We can glean some idea of her style from the portrait sketches exhibited in 1933, which make use of rapid drawing, some with delicate hints of colour and shading, whereas others are simply line drawings. They display strong psychological definition, and capture each sitter’s facial expression with little concern to flatter or soften any imperfections.   It is interesting that her husband’s obituarist somewhat unfairly referred to her drawings as ‘semi-caricatures’[5].   Of the thirty-six drawings exhibited, ten are now in public collections in London and Manchester, while a number of others have recently been discovered in a private collection in Wales.

It is worth exploring the few glimpses of Hey’s career that can be gleaned from exhibition reviews in national newspapers and through her participation in artists’ societies. Hey regularly exhibited in London during the 1920s and 1930s: in 1927 she was elected to full membership of the London Group and showed a painting, titled The Model, at their 1928 retrospective exhibition. Hey continued to exhibit work with the London Group every year until the outbreak of the Second World War[6].


[Cicely Hey, Title and Subject Unknown, Private Collection, Wales]

Hey’s work reaped some critical success. In 1930 she showed a work titled Reflection at the first exhibition of the Young Painters’ Society at the New Burlington Galleries which was mentioned in The Times[7]. At the third exhibition of the National Society of Painters, Sculptors, Engravers and Potters, held at the Royal Institute Galleries in Piccadilly in 1932, The Times gave special mention to her work The Child[8]. In 1934, Hey’s watercolour, At Her Dressing Table, exhibited with the same society, was considered by The Times one of the ‘more genuine’ paintings there[9]. At the exhibition of the London Group later that year, Hey exhibited another watercolour, Cabaret Girl, which The Observer picked out as ‘interesting’[10].   Sickert too approved of her work ‘Your little canvases are ripping… my missus agrees with me’[11].   While the location of these reviewed works is unknown, the painting illustrated above may give some idea of her loose style and use of colour [12].

Fig.5Hey was also an accomplished designer and illustrator. As such, she participated in the Inn Signs Exhibition held in 1936 at the Building Centre in Bond Street, in the heart of the London art trade, submitting a design for The White Hart. When reviewing the exhibition (the first and last of its kind) the Manchester Guardian reported that the only commission received thus far had been by Cicely Hey [13], however it is not known if it was ever completed.   Recent research has unearthed other inn sign designs by Hey, along with illustrations for a children’s book The House of Crooks and a Christmas story [illustrated left, Private Collection, Wales][14].   Other identified work includes a manuscript for The Fogroom Bird, written and illustrated for Hey’s niece, which appeared at auction in 2014[15].   It is to be assumed that none of these stories was ever published.

In 1941, Hey moved to Llysfaen in north Wales and began modelling miniature figures in historically accurate costumes, using a variety of materials including terracotta, wire and papier maché, some modelled with moveable limbs[16].   (Hey herself was once described as ‘like a toy made carefully out of wires and a little wool’[17]).   While the popularity of puppetry had declined during the early years of the 20th century, interest had been kept alive by a small band of enthusiasts.   The 1923 publication of H.W. Whanslaw’s Everybody’s Theatre had prompted a revival of this art, and in successive decades many professional puppeteers toured the country with their puppet shows[18].   From the late 1940s until the early 1970s, Hey exhibited her model figures extensively in Wales and also in London.   Hey’s costumed figures were shown by Waldo and Muriel Lanchester, founders of the London Marionette Theatre, at the Shakespeare Festivals of 1964 and 1969, and her models also made press and television appearances during this time. In addition, they appeared on several occasions during the 1960s at the Royal National Eisteddfod[19].

Fig.6In 1964 an exhibition of thirty-two of Hey’s figures, illustrating the history of English costume in fine detail, was held at London’s Geffrye Museum, transferring to the Colwyn Bay Public Library early in 1965. These, along with another set of ‘Bygone Figures’ were bequeathed to the National Museum in Cardiff in 1980[20].   Hey not only took enormous care to dress her figures accurately, she carefully modelled each face creating individual characters and giving each one a name taken from a catalogue of brass rubbings[21].  Hey’s ability in her early drawings to create credible and honest representations of the people she knew is reflected in the attention she paid to the miniature figures created from imagination in her later years.   An example of such work, Figure in Stocks (1966) is held at the Museum of English Rural Life at Reading University and was included in an exhibition held there in 2007-08 [illustrated above].

A terracotta head by Hey, Portrait of Bob Hughes, was selected by a committee consisting of Alfred Janes, Ceri Richards and Ruskin Spear for the second Welsh Arts Council’s Open Series exhibition of Contemporary Welsh Painting and Sculpture, held at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff and the Newport Museum and Art Gallery in 1955. This work was purchased for the Contemporary Art Society of Wales and subsequently donated to the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery in Swansea.

Hey died at her home in Llysfaen, Colwyn Bay, in 1980, and her work is now mostly forgotten.   However, some twenty-five years after her death, many of Hey’s ‘art celebrities’ portrait drawings were brought back together in an exhibition held at Llanover Hall in Cardiff in 2006, curated by Welsh artist, Tony Goble (1943-2007) during his residency there.   He described it as ‘a unique exhibition for Wales, with both an artistic and historic relevance – and not to be missed. Giving people a rare opportunity to see the work of this important, but relatively unknown artist, whose work has not been on major public display for over 70 years’[22].   It is to be hoped that the recently discovered collection of Hey’s drawings, paintings, illustrations and sculpture may provide the opportunity for this little-known artist’s work to be brought once again to public attention.

AB, August 2016


Works by Cicely Hey in public collections :


Drawings from the “Art Celebrities” exhibition :

 National Portrait Gallery, London:

Francis Frederick Locker Birrell – NPG D34000

(William) Martin Conway, 1st Baron Conway of Allington – NPG D34001

Campbell Dodgson – NPG D34002

Thérèse Lessore (Mrs Sickert) – NPG D34003

British Museum:

Dugald Sutherland MacColl (donated by Tatlock) – 1933,0518.1

The Whitworth, University of Manchester:

Jacob Epstein – D.2009.4

Samuel Alexander – D.2009.5

Walter Sickert – D.2009.3

Roger Fry – D.2009.6

R.R. Tatlock –D.2009.7


Other works:

Figure in Stocks (mixed media) (1966) – Museum of English Rural Life, University of Reading – 68/381

Portrait of Bob Hughes (terracotta) – Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea – GV 57.1362. https://sites.google.com/site/walesart/touring-exhibitions/1950s/contemporary-welsh-painting-and-sculpture-1955

 (with Francis Ernest Jackson)

Bird’s eye view of the Tower of London, and surrounding area, as it appeared in 1597; poster produced for the Central School of Arts & Crafts; from a survey taken by Gulielmus Haiward (colour lithograph) (1919) – British Museum – 1922,0311.28


Notes :

[1]. Times, 13 March 1933

[2]. Walter Sickert: A Life, by Matthew Sturgis, pub. Harper Collins, 2005

[3]. Aspects of Walter Sickert, II, 1960, BBC Archive

[4]. Post-War to Post-Modern: A Dictionary of Artists in Wales, by Peter Jones & Isabel Hitchman, pub. Gomer Press, 2015; University of London, Slade School, First Entry Card and student index card

[5]. Times, 2 July 1954

[6]. David Redfern, Archivist, The London Group

[7]. Times, 15 March 1930

[8]. Times, 11 Feb 1932

[9]. Times, 16 Feb 1934

[10]. Observer, 18 Nov 1934

[11]. Telegram from Sickert to Hey, 18 Jan 1929 (Sickert: Paintings, eds. Wendy Baron & Richard Shone, pub. Yale University Press, 1992)

[12]. Private Collection, Wales

[13]. Manchester Guardian, 14 Nov 1936

[14]. Private Collection, Wales

[15]. Cheffins Fine Art (illustrated in www.the-saleroom.com)

[16]. Jones & Hitchman op. cit.

[17]. Letter from Frances Partridge to Richard Shone, 26 Feb 1990 (Baron & Shone, op.cit.)

[18]. Victoria and Albert Museum website History of Puppetry in Britain http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/h/history-of-puppetry-in-britain/

[19]. Artists Exhibited in Wales 1945-74, by Kirstine Brander Dunthorne, pub. Welsh Arts Council, 1976

[20]. Museum of English Rural Life, Reading University, 2007-2008


[21]. Probate 18 Apr 1980 (ref. 801900894E)

[22]. Press release for Cicely Hey exhibition, Llanover Hall Art Centre, 2006


One thought on “‘Art Celebrities’, an exhibition by Cicely Hey advertised in The Burlington Magazine

  1. Many thanks to the author for such an interesting and well written article!
    Hopefully you can expand this research into a fuller piece at some point in the future.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s