Joan Gillchrest, Artist, born November 2, 1918, died January 3, 2008
Joan Gillchrest who has died aged 89 had established herself as one of the foremost naïve artists of her time. Just as L. S. Lowry’s work depicts the life and times of the working class people of Northern England Joan’s distinctive paintings of people going about their business will be forever identified with the fisherfolk of Cornwall’s rugged Penwith Peninsula. Her work sits proudly alongside the other great Artists of the St. Ives School painting from the 1960’s.
Joan Linda Gillchrest was born on the 2 November 1918 at Bentinck Street, London W1. Her father Dr Sebastian Gilbert Scott was a pioneer of Radiology who had qualified in medicine in 1904 and who rose to be head of the radiotherapy department at the London Hospital 1909-1930. Coming from a family of eminent architects—Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878) was her Great Grandfather and Giles Gilbert Scott (1880-1960) her Uncle—it is not surprising that Joan always loved the Cornish Architecture and churches, chapels and cottages feature prominently in her work. She said “buildings are in my blood”.
Joan’s Mother was Australian and an accomplished pianist.
Joan was the third of four children and the family home was at Bourne End in Berkshire. By her own admission Joan was a “difficult child” who claims to have been sent to boarding school on the Isle of Wight to give the rest of the family some peace. It is family folklore that her parents hired two Nannies, one for Joan and one for the other three siblings. Nevertheless she was the apple of her Father’s eye. He was a skilful caricaturist and recognising Joan’s talent encouraged her to draw and paint.
She was sent to Paris in 1934 to learn the language and develop her appreciation of Art. She studied in various studios often posing as a model. She remembers meeting Gwen John (1876-1939).
In 1935 she was enrolled at the Grosvenor School of Art and studied under Iain Macnab—in Joan’s words a “marvellous teacher”–. She began to exhibit and even sell her work. A painting titled “Two Girls in Lyons Corner House” was exhibited in New English Art Club 1937 and “German Scene with Cows” hung at the London Group 1938. She was only 18 when her first work was exhibited at the Royal Academy