Wednesday to Sunday 10am to 5pm or by appointment
“No smouldering cigar, unlike Mr. Eastwood, it’s a No.4 flat sable that’s clenched between my teeth as my hand hovers over my palette, anticipating when the man in the white van will make his move, and stop obstructing my view of Wild West Suffolk.
In my view it’s the results of all that mixture of good and bad, the blending of contrasts that are all around us that we accept as everyday, those underlooked qualities that most interest me and find me focusing on the ordinary.""
Charles Debenham, the Edward Hopper of Colchester and Sudbury has lived and painted in and around Essex and Suffolk all his life, in countryside famous for its artists. These include Thomas Gainsborough, John Constable, John Nash and Alfred Munnings, the latter being one of England’s finest painters of horses, who became Charles’ first over the shoulder critic whilst a fifteen-year-old Charles was sketching down in Dedham when he was still a student at art school.
He now works mainly from home in his studio, a rambling old house near Great Horkesley that he has lived in for over 50 years. Due to failing eyesight that has prevented him from driving Charles now relies on friends to ferry him out to sketch. His walrus like whiskers, sensitive blue eyes and ready smile belie his 88 years. He paints every day working on more than one canvas at a time from previously drawn pencil sketches and notes. His people are often drawn in isolation, later transferred for a new life in a different town or street.
Always a great storyteller, in his eighties he travelled in Sicily with artist friends and was mugged at the railway station in the Baroque city of Noto whilst they were on their way to Syracuse. He beat off the attackers with his walking stick and fortunately escaped without injury. A good friend of the Daily Express cartoonist Carl Giles, he once taught him how to draw an elephant. Charles and Carl often found inspiration in Ipswich pubs.
Sir David Frost was also a great fan of Charles’s work, his father had been a Methodist minister and it was in East Anglia that he preached his first and last sermons.
In 1990 Sir David bought a Charles Debenham painting at the Royal Academy Summer Show ‘A do at the church’ but unfortunately before he could take delivery the painting was damaged. Undeterred Charles quickly repaired the painting and decided to deliver it to the exclusive Chelsea address himself. Charles did not know that the David Frost who had bought an earlier work was ‘the’ David Frost, but when he opened the door he soon recognised the TV celebrity. It is not known whether or not Sir David greeted Charles with his customary ‘Hello good evening and welcome…’
In his first show at The Chappel Galleries for over two years ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ordinary’ (the title inspired by a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western film), is the perfection of Charles’s vision of beauty in the seemingly mundane. Highlights include: Grannies West Mersea – a family group seated by the road to the oyster sheds on Mersea island. Road ahead closed, Wivenhoe – a typical Essex back street temporarily closed on a summer’s day. Sleeping Twister, Long Melford captures the moment when a storm approaches a fairground ride under a foreboding Constablesque sky and St. Stephen's Chapel, Bures, a rare interior painting depicting the tomb of Thomas De Vere who fought with Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt.
As daffodils were to Wordsworth, the wheelie bins, chips shops and the lampposts of Essex are to Charles Debenham.
John Bowling 2022
BORN: Colchester 9th August 1933, married Eilish. Two sons, one daughter
EDUCATED: Colchester Royal Grammar School; Studied: Colchester School of Art
Aged 14 Charles Debenham began evening classes at Colchester School of Art, training there as an illustrator full-time from 1948-53; teachers John O’Connor, Blair HughesStanton, Hugh Cronyn, Carel Weight. In the early sixties he was appointed to the list of designers for The Crown Agents. His clients included Anglian Water, British Telecom and National Rivers Authority followed by National Power and National Grid for whom he designed a great many visitor, educational and environmental centres. At Earls Court Charles designed the Central Features for both The London International Boat Show and the World Travel Market; for London Electricity, the costumes and giant floats for The Lord Mayor’s Show and Battersea Easter Parade. At St Paul’s Cathedral he designed The Royal Wedding (Charles & Diana) Exhibition. Debenham was awarded top prize for his pavilion for Bowater, at The International Fair, Cairo 1976. He also designed the USA National Pavilion at Palais Sud, Paris 1980 and Basel Expo 1981. The Merchant Navy commissioned him to create their float for the parade to mark the 50th anniversary of WWII.
1961, 68, 73, 2006 (with book) Minories, Colchester (solo shows)
1970 Gainsborough’s House, Sudbury
1980 – 2015 exhibited most years Royal Academy, London
1988 – 2009
exhibited most years Royal West of England Academy
Beecroft Art Gallery, Westcliff on Sea, exhibited several times: awarded ‘most distinguished work’ 1995
1996 (with publication); 2000 (with book); 2006 (with publication); 2016 (with booklet) Chappel Galleries, Essex past solo shows
2000 – 2008 South West Academy of Fine Arts
2012 Minories, Colchester ‘Timeplace’ (three person show: Debenham; Howey; Roscorla)
Beecroft Art Gallery, Southend
The Mall Galleries, London: New English Art Club; Discerning Eye; Royal Institute of Oil Painters
Exhibited with Brotherhood of Ruralists, Bodmin
Exhibited Hayletts Gallery, Essex
Exhibited Geedon Gallery, Essex
2019 ‘The man who painted Colchester and Sudbury’ Chappel Galleries, Essex with booklet (solo show)
2022 ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ordinary’ Chappel Galleries, Essex, with booklet (solo show)
Sir David Frost; Colchester and Ipswich Museums; Epping Forest District Museum; East Contemporary Art Collection University Campus, Suffolk; Madison Museum of Fine Art, USA; London Electricity National Grid (commissioned).
‘The Outdoor Paintings by Charles Debenham’ folder of 24 postcards published by
Chappel Galleries, Essex 1996
“Charles Debenham East Anglia” by David Buckman, published 2000 John Sampson & Co, Bristol;
Chas Debeham “From the Other Side of the Street” Introduction by the artist published 2006 Firstsite;
‘And Now You See It booklet published by Chappel Galleries, Essex 2016; ‘The man who painted Colchester and Sudbury’ published by Karl Debenham 2018;
‘The man who painted Colchester and Sudbury’ exhibition booklet for sales of paintings published by Chappel Galleries, Essex 2019
‘A misguided tour around town’ with artist Charles Debenham video by Rowena Macaulay 2021
As above plus oil paintings in public ownership.
Who’s who in Art 2012; David Buckman’s Artists in Britain since 1945; Chappel Galleries exhibition 2006, and above publications.
Accompanying this exhibition: Book published by Karl Debenham Autumn
2018: Charles Debenham ‘The man who painted Colchester and Sudbury’.
Soft back - 96 pages - fully illustrated - colour reproductions - ISBN 978 –1-5272-3113-9 available at the gallery.
Price £15 postage extra