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King’s College Chapel, 1966

Bryan Pearce was born in St. Ives and has lived there all his life. Despite suffering from a rare genetic disorder, phenylketonuria, which affects the development of the brain, he began to draw and paint in 1953 and went on to study at the St. Ives School of Painting. Alan Bowness thus described his work: “Out of season, you can sometimes see Bryan Pearce sitting in the streets and alleys of St. Ives concentrating hard on the scene before him … drawing in with a very pale pencil line the composition of his painting … Back in the studio he goes over the almost invisible line, first in pencil, then with a fine brush loaded with yellow ochre paint. The composition emerges strong and firm. Nothing essential is changed. Then comes the enjoyable part, adding the colour. There’s no need now to follow the evidence of the eye: things are as they should be, not necessarily as they are … Touches of imagination and fantasy creep in.”

This method is apparent in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, which was painted in the Spring of 1966 when Pearce stayed with Jim Ede during an exhibition of his work at the Bene’t Gallery. The artist’s response to the architecture of King’s College Chapel is sensitive, animated by the characteristic use of bird’s-eye-view and vivid palette. The combination of yellow, ochre, pale blue and muddy green, in a distorted physical space, lends a child-like, almost expressionist quality to the painting.

Ede greatly enjoyed Pearce’s vision and became an enthusiastic collector of his work. In a catalogue introduction of 1976, he wrote that: “If anyone is in need of peace, trust and joy, they will find it in the work of Bryan Pearce. He gives with his whole being, totally free of sophistication and totally altruistic; he paints as he breathes. These stones which form a pier, this road, church, window, flowers in their pot, a thousand visual things, are the deep unconscious quality of his interior life and his immediate contact with his close friend God. I know of no artist with whom I can compare him in this direct simplicity and devotion save Fra’ Angelico who would place one colour against another with assurance and tenderness, and yet, so it is said, when he painted the body of Jesus, he closed his eyes in humble knowledge of his own frailty. Bryan Pearce has this inward vision, undisturbed by greed, desire of worldly achievement, concern with his own personality and much else; and such wholeness lives in his absorbed love, expressed he knows not how.”

Provenance: purchased from the artist by H.S. Ede, c.1967.

Painting [BP 14]


Oil on hardboard

557 x 1170 mm

About the artist

Pearce was born in St. Ives. In spite of suffering from phenylketonuria, he successfully attended the local school of art. A so-called 'naïve' artist, his paintings focussed on the detail of ships and buildings.