Portrait of the Artist

Bettina Shaw-Lawrence

Bettina Shaw-Lawrence
(England, 1940)

David Kentish (c.1922-c.1965)

Bettina Shaw-Lawrence

Several references to the artist Bettina Shaw-Lawrence can be found in Night Thoughts: The Surreal Life of the Poet David Gascoyne, the 2012 Oxford biography of Gascoyne by Robert Fraser. You'll also find references in Gascoyne's own journals. The public internet sources are a bit scarce, but we've collected a few on this page to give a sense of this painter who's been described as a 'Magical Realist'.

At the end of this page you'll find a link to Fraser's account of locating Shaw-Lawrence through her Bridgeman Art listing in order to interview her for his book, and the subsequent re-discovery of her 1944 pen and ink portrait of her friend David Gascoyne.

We also managed to find a small exhibition catalogue from her first exhibition at Leicester Galleries with John Aldridge. The small, stapled catalogue contains no images, but we show a cover image here to give a sense of the young artist's first show. Click through the image to see the full catalogue.

First Exhibition of Pictures by


Recent Paintings by




Exhibitions Nos. 864-865
Approximately 6 & 3/8ths by 5 inches

a brief biography from Wikipedia:

The artist attended, before the outbreak of the Second World War, drawing classes under Fernand Léger and studied sculpture with Ossip Zadkine in Paris. During those formative years David Gascoyne, the Surrealist poet, was her mentor.

On her return to London in September, 1939, Shaw-Lawrence met David Kentish and Lucian Freud both students at Cedric Morris and Arthur Lett-Haines' East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing. This encounter enabled her to spend the summer of 1940 studying under the artist Cedric Morris and though she returned to the School at Benton End near Hadleigh, Suffolk, for short spells during the war, Shaw-Lawrence mainly painted in Richmond-upon-Thames.

The photos below show Zadkine in his Paris studio courtyard, 1930 and the Atelier Moderne studio of Leger in Paris, 1924. Shaw-Lawrence's paintings show a strong sculptural feel for mass and form that was undoubtedly reinforced by her proximity to the two artists.

LEFT:   Zadkine from: the-broom-cupboard.tumblr.com
RIGHT:   Fernand Léger’s Atelier Moderne studio 1924, from:
J.W. Power: Abstraction – Création Paris 1934
The University of Sydney, Museum of Contemporary Art
The Australian artist Power was associated with the London Group of British Modernists.

She also studied at The East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing:

from Artist Biographies: British and Irish Artists of the 20th Century

The School was established in 1937 at Dedham, on the Essex/Suffolk border, by Cedric Morris, with the help of John Aldridge, Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious. The four artists, all members of the 7 & 5 Society, had become disillusioned by the direction that society was taking after the election of Ben Nicholson as Chairman in 1926, especially by Nicholson’s introduction of a ruling that restricted the society's exhibitions to the showing of non-representational work only. Morris was the first to leave, moving to Dedham with his lifelong companion sculptor Arthur Lett-Haines.

They were soon joined by Aldridge, Bawden and Ravilious who all settled a few miles away at Great Bardfield in Essex. The School suffered a devastating fire in 1940 allegedly started by pupil Lucian Freud. It was forced to relocate to Benton End near Hadleigh in Suffolk, where it survived for forty years until the Haines’ demise in 1978. Morris continued to live at Benton End until his death in 1982. Other alumni included Maggi Hambling, David Carr, Lucy Harwood, Joan Warburton and Glyn Morgan.

from BBC Arts: Cedric Lockwood Morris (1889–1982):
The school was anti-academic in approach: 'what the pupil felt about appearances mattered more than what he or she saw:

drawing, dictated by feeling, could employ emotive distortion'

(Frances Spalding, British Art Since 1900, 1986).

A selection of Cedric Morris paintings from The Art Fund:

Students sometimes worked in the burnt structure, above right.

Fellow student Lucian Freud's
portrait by Cedric Morris
at the Tate


David Carr and Lucian Freud
at Cedric Morris's school

   "Lucian Freud"

by Bettina Shaw-Lawrence

pen & ink on paper, 23 x 41 cm
private collection

Below: Detail of the drawing

1943 Trip to Scotland
with Lucian Freud & 'Nigel Mc.'

In 1943 M.J.T. Tambimuttu's periodical Poetry (London) started Editions Poetry London which published illustrated volumes of poetry. One of the volumes was David Gascoyne's Poems 1937-1942 illustrated by Graham Sutherland, which proved to be one of the more successful volumes. We've posted a few of these striking images on the David Gascoyne images page of this issue.

A subsequent volume was The Glass Tower, a volume of poetry by Nicholas Moore, to be illustrated by the young artist Lucian Freud.

In 1943 Lucian Freud, Bettina Shaw-Lawrence and Lucian's friend 'Nigel Mc.' set out for Scotland, quite probably for inspiration for Lucian's book commission.

Sandra Boselli interviewed Shaw-Lawrence for her Spring 2011 British Art Journal article Lucian Freud: a Scottish interlude. While Freud is the focus of the article, it sheds a bit of light on Shaw-Lawrence as well.

The trip was subsidized by Freud's benefactor, Peter Watson. According to Boselli, 'Nigel Mc.' was another of Watson's protege's.

a selection from:
Lucian Freud: a Scottish interlude
by Sandra Boselli
Source: British Art Journal. Volume 11, issue 3 (Spring 2011): p69.
Bettina Shaw-Lawrence recollects Lucian fixing an assignation with his friend Nigel Mc. and herself to discuss the logistics of their journey to Scotland. The three conspirators met one evening upstairs at the Cafe Royal, a select location probably considered as propitious for discussing their secret plan. It was of paramount importance to prevent Peter Watson from finding out that Bettina was accompanying the two young men on this trip. He was willing to pay for his proteges, but would have refused pointblank to foot the bill where the young woman was concerned. Bettina by her own admission was seen by the influential and affluent homosexuals of London's artistic coterie as a 'troublesome girl'. Nevertheless, her talent and exuberance enabled her to make many friends among whom was Lucian Freud. They had known each other since her return from Paris in 1939 where she had studied art for a year. It was the start of a very close, life-enhancing wartime relationship. According to Bettina Shaw-Lawrence they developed in those early years strong emotional and artistic bonds fraught with rivalry.

The trio set off for Scotland one evening in the middle of a bombing raid towards the end of June 1943. It took for ever, the train stopping every so often during air raids in the middle of the night. The discomfort of the journey is apparent in Freud's sketch Night Train to Inverness, where he has drawn Nigel resting his head on a 'young man's' shoulder. Bettina recollected gazing at the two young men asleep, one fair and the other dark, and thinking how beautiful they looked. At long last they arrived in Inverness to the sound of bagpipes and travelled on to Drumnadrochit by bus.

Left: Lucian Freud's Night Train to Inverness 1943
Right: Poetry London's The Glass Tower by Nicholas Moore, illustrated by Lucian Freud

In a postcard addressed to Elsie Nicholson, revealed by Simon Grant in his article 'Prophecies by Freud', Lucian Freud wrote, 'I am staying at a really hot stuff tip-top hopscotch luxury dive for old dames.' The 'dive' was in fact the Drumnadrochit Hotel, a large Victorian building in the baronial style near Loch Ness. As for the 'old dames', they were dignified old ladies who had had to give up their ancestral homes at the request of the government, which needed such places for hospitals, nursing homes and so on. Freud's card makes no reference to his two travelling companions.

Apparently, the occupants of this eminently respectable establishment were flabbergasted when these three handsome, flamboyantly dressed young people turned up in their hotel lounge. Bettina was wearing a Ross tartan kilt and a red Tyrolean hat with two feathers, her hair in pigtails with bows, Lucian a pair of tartan trousers which he had obtained at the Ritz bar in exchange for his own from a soldier of a Scottish regiment, and tall, handsome Nigel was also dressed in a kilt.

The Scottish interlude got off to a great start. Lucian Freud described in his postcard how thrilled he was by the colours of the scenery and the quality of the light, worthy of Technicolor films. Unfortunately, skirmishes rapidly developed within the trio, his two friends going for long walks on their own while Lucian either moodily drew from his bedroom window or went riding bareback.

– Sandra Boselli

Two Paintings by Shaw-Lawrence

illustrating a strong sense of structural mass and form

Boy in Luxembourg

auction 01/08/2013

Portrait of Jean Muir

Lyon & Turnbull Auctions
via www.invaluable.com

An Herbarium for the Fair: Being a Book of Common Herbs with Etchings

Brief description from: University of Otago, New Zealand:

In an attempt to etch the likenesses of common herbs such as 'Eyebright', 'Golden Rod', and 'Darnel', and provide their properties and uses, Betty Shaw-Lawrence not only read numerous old herbals, but also physically examined many samples of plants.

Her advertisement to this limited edition of 260 ends: 'Read, then, what is written here; mark it if you please; learn it if you will; but be chary before you inwardly digest it...'.

— Betty Shaw-Lawrence, An Herbarium for the Fair: Being a Book of Common Herbs with Etchings
London: The Hand & FLower Press, 1949.

Dark brown cover below: from Antiquariaat Jan Meemelink
Illustrated book cover below: Angela James, online bookbinding exhibit, Indiana University

David Emery Gascoyne

pen and ink, 1944

Bettina Shaw-Lawrence

National Portrait Gallery

Robert Fraser, biographer of
NIGHT THOUGHTS: the Surreal Life of the Poet David Gascoyne
recounts his connecting with Bettina Shaw-Lawrence and the
subsequent re-discovery of the 1944 portrait of Gascoyne above

David Gascoyne and the Missing Portrait