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Letter from Robert Melville to Graham Ovenden June 1972 (Robert Melville was the regular art critic for The New Statesman and Architectural Journal. His publications include Picasso, Henry Moore, Erotic Art of the West and Samuel Palmer).

Dear Graham,
It was a pleasure to see you last Friday, I must say that Lillian and I look forward to your fortnightly visits to our little flat in Gower Mews Mansions. I forgot to show you my two substantial Francis Bacon paintings which I keep under my bed. Though I think I was the first critic to support and write about his art I do find them, now, somewhat joyless and as time progresses less than satisfactory.

Again, I was early onto Picasso, at least in British publishing, and it seems a tragedy that he too began to believe in his own myth and produced works of self indulgent mediocrity for the last thirty years of his life. Your observation that it may not be a coincidence that the the progress of modernism since the Great War has, in the visual arts, followed a similar path to that of Fascism, the paring away of humanity to a soulless, often (at least I find it so) tedious abstraction. The Nazi purification of the individual which admits only a lifeless uniformity.

One problem we face with both Matisse and Picasso, no doubt numerous other moderns, is that they found themselves too early on. Matisse's Dancers (in Russia) is still his masterpiece. His later works pare away true sensuality and the truth of genuine spiritual arousal, this quality is to be found in abundance in his youthful, joyful creations, which now have evolved to become a formula and not a particularly inspiring one at that. His decorated book Jazz must be one of the worst designed works in publishing and any true colour sense has become crude, his once mastery in this art long since fled.

With love from Robert (Platonic of course).

Letter from Robert Robinson to Graham Ovenden 1989 (Robert Robinson was the doyen of BBC radio and television which included discussion programs, early morning presentations, the chairman of Call my Bluff and a series of films based on his own particular fancy (his description) for Television South West.

Dear Graham,
Firstly many thanks for your fine cover design to my novel Bad Dreams. As a return I am sending you my final typed manuscript suitably bound and signed with my gratitude to you. Once again I thank you for allowing me the pleasure of making a film on you for Television. Let me once more say I consider you the foremost painter of nature, also the direct heir to Constable and Turner. Remember we discussed the general paucity of art criticism at this moment of time and how degenerate the powers that be have become. I don't think this is the case in regards to the theatre who seem to have genuine innovations and real talent, I can't say the same for those running our major contemporary galleries, also, not least the arse lickers who follow them. You ask me of all the famous I have met and interviewed who I liked least. Ester Ranson was definitely the worst woman I have ever met!

Kind regards from the Dog Chairman
Robert

Letter from Lord David Cecil to Graham Ovenden 1975 (David Cecil was one of the foremost literary figures of the 20th century)

Dear Graham,
Thank you for coming all the way to the Red Lion to give me the sheets of A Victorian Family Album to sign, your letter of approval to my introduction was most welcome. I think at our last meeting we touched on your admiration for Walter de la Mare, in particular his short story Seaton's Aunt. We both agree to its brilliance. I had both the honour and sad duty of giving the address at Walter D L M's funeral. Judging by our conversations I find he was important as a mentor to your development, this pleases me greatly. As a literary figure of eminence I found him untainted by the self indulgence of contemporary fashion, he was truly himself, both child and man, timeless. Often that rare being who could hold and project his dreams so that they became as ours.

Until our next meeting, with my best wishes
David Cecil

Thomas Mann on the rise of Fascism in Europe (From Mario The Magician) 1929

In a word we became an offence to the public morals. Our small daughter – eight years old, but in physical development a good year younger and as thin as a chicken – had had a good long bathe and gone playing in the warm sun in her wet costume. We told her that she might take off her bathing suit, which was stiff with sand, rinse it in the sea, and put it on again, after which she must take care to keep it clean. Off goes the costume and she runs down naked to the sea, rinses her little jersey, and come back. Ought we to have foreseen the outburst of anger and resentment which her conduct, and thus our conduct, called forth? … I must say that in the last decade our attitude towards the nude body and our feelings regarding it have undergone, all over the world, a fundamental change. There are some things we never think about any more, and among them is the freedom we had permitted to this by no means provocative little childish body. But in these parts it was taken as a challenge ...

Letter from Kenneth Clark (Baron Clark) to Graham Ovenden. 1970 (Clark was the creator of Civilisation, as yet the finest of all TV programmes in instilling the wonder of great art to a wide public. Also he was the author of numerous influential books on the subject of art).

Dear Graham,
I hope we will have more opportunity to discuss your sentiments on the progression of modernism during the 20th century. I think it was fortunate we met on Radio3, this forum is perfect for such, shall I call it revelations. I totally agree with you that the progression of European Art is above all a spiritual journey, This seems, to now, have grown into a fraught progression, one in the main divorced from what is positive, the enlightenment of the soul. You are quite right when you pointed out that one may equally “progress” to damnation as paradise. If your brush continues to create with the same understanding of nature and humanity as your intellect, we can expect great things from you.

I am yours truly
Kenneth Clark

Exert from a manuscript given by Laurie Lee to Graham Ovenden 1979 (Laurie Lee was a master essayist, his works including Cider With Rosie, As I walked Out One Summers Day. Cider With Rosie is one of the most beloved collections of essays penned in the 20th century).

… for those who see indecency in the image of a child when there is none, they are the true pornographers and should be treated as such.

Letter from Sir John Betjeman to Graham Ovenden 1983 (Sir John was Poet Laureate from 1972 to his death in 1984).

Dear Graham,
Of course I have known your East End “Kids” from various publications – but when last Wednesday you showed me a substantial archive of these wonderful pictures I was not only impressed but deeply moved. How it was possible for a young teenager to produce such haunting images with his primitive camera is little short of a marvel. In the years to come I am sure that you will gain true credit for documenting this fast disappearing world. One day I should like to walk with you through these Childhood Streets, that's if they still exist, so exchange our visions, memories and hopes.

Yes, of course I will write a forward to your proposed book.

As ever I am your poet in ordinary
John.

Sadly Sir John died before the monograph could be produced. The book was eventually published in 1998 with an introduction by Martin Golding.

Letter from Laurie Lee to Graham Ovenden 1983 (Slad Village, Stroud, Gloucestershire)

Letter from David Hockney to Graham Ovenden 1994 (2907 Montcalm Avenue, Los Angeles, 90046)