Clarence Willie Northing FRSA 1895-1973

Biography by Margaret White

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Clarence Willie Northing
Clarence Willie Northing FRSA 1895-1973

Clarence W Northing was born 1895 in Bradford, Yorkshire.

He died 1973 in Widnes, Lancashire.

Mr Northing was my father and I have compiled this tribute to him from notes that he made, from family knowledge and my personal memories of him. This is not intended to be a full biography but only to follow the way that his love of art influenced the pattern of his life.

From an early age he was unusually talented in drawing and painting, and as a schoolboy often made post card size pictures of houses, farms and landscapes etc. He sometimes offered to sell these to the owners of the property for six pence. Any money he earned in this way was used to purchase more materials to enable him to continue painting and drawing.

After leaving school he found employment with a local firm where he learnt the craft of picture mounting, framing and associated skills. These crafts he utilized to the full not only for his own pictures but also in his later employment. He then gained a scholarship to enable him to study Art at evening classes. His wide ranging interests included photography, developing and printing his own photos, woodwork, poetry, literary and political discussion to name a few.

During the 1914 to 1918 war he served in the army, and saw duty in the front line at Ypres, Poelcapelle, Wytschaete, Houlthurst Forest and Passchendaele. It is thought that during this time he did not do any painting. Finally he was severely wounded and subsequently invalided out of the army on full pension, therefore unable to work, and it was during his long convalescence that he furthered his study of art, travelling the country with a tent and his painting gear.

In 1922 he was sufficiently recovered to take up employment as an assistant in the Art Department of Boots in Sheffield, the same year he married and, unaided, built and equipped a wooden bungalow near Sheffield to be their home, making the fittings and some furniture himself. By this time he was a member of the Yorkshire Society of Artists, and several of his pictures had been accepted for exhibition, some were shown in small local venues, but he also had works shown in the Cartwright Gallery in Bradford, the Royal Cambrian Academy and the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool that I remember although there must have been many other venues.

His preferred genre was landscape painting, mainly using watercolour but frequently oil on canvas (or later hardboard), also etching, wood and lino cuts, pen, pencil, crayon and pastel. He was adept at figure drawing and portraiture but rarely practiced these; he produced a few still life paintings mainly as tutorial examples. I remember one of a collection of toys belonging to his children, which he did at our request.

He lived in Sheffield for about 10 years. Always drawing and painting, and studying geology, architecture, botany, anatomy, weather etc. to enhance his skills. Unfortunately due to the uncertain economic situation throughout the country at that time, and with a growing family to care for, he was never again able to devote his whole life to art.

Subsequently he moved to Boots Art Department in Manchester, living in Romiley, Cheshire and was soon deeply involved in the arts communities of Manchester and the local area. He also able to set up a studio at home and began an Art Group, teaching classes and private pupils and organising outings for sketching groups. Of his many artist friends and acquaintances L S Lowry, then an unknown artist, was a visitor to his home and sometimes joined in his sketching groups.

Due to the Blitz during WW2 Boots’ Manchester property was destroyed, but Mr Northing was later appointed Manager of the Art Department of their branch in Cheltenham where he was quickly accepted by the Arts fraternity. Throughout he continued to exhibit at many exhibitions, and held several one-man exhibitions. One I remember well as I assisted him to hang the exhibits was at Salford Art Gallery in 1945. Other venues included Stockport Art Gallery, Royal Cambrian Academy, Hyde Art Gallery, Manchester Art Gallery, Victoria Art Gallery at Bath, Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, also others in and around Cheltenham and Gloucester, Bristol and Tewkesbury. Several Galleries have works of his in their permanent collections. For many years he received from George Rowney & Co. newly developed paints and other artists’ materials and requirements, including the innovative Cryla acrylic paints, to trial and report on.

In 1967 my father came to live with me and my husband and family in North Wales. I think it gave him a renewed interest in his art, and he passed on much of his wisdom to my sons, teaching them many skills such as photography, woodwork and marquetry. He soon joined the Flint Art Club, and there by giving lectures and providing practical assistance, helped many of the members to improve their work. After his death one of the members deposited a small file in tribute to my father with the Museum collection in Mold, Flintshire.

In 1973 he died suddenly while staying for a holiday with his son. At the time he was working on a commission for a well-known personality and collector (whom I shall not name without his permission). Mr Northing is remembered by all who knew him as a forthright man, with a rather quirky sense of humour. He maintained his love of art, learning and independence throughout his life. Although he has not achieved national fame, his works still appear in Art Sales catalogues quite frequently.

Compiled by Margaret White (née Northing) 2017 and published with her permission