Kenneth Armitage Foundation
James M MacLaren
- Original design
- James M MacLaren, 1888
The studio residence at Avonmore Road in West Kensington, was built in 1888-9 for the Victorian sculptor H.R. Pinker by the pioneering Scottish Architect James Marjoribanks MacLaren (1853-1890). Originally from South West Perthshire, MacLaren trained in Glasgow, London and Paris, and realised a number of impressive buildings before his untimely death from TB at the age of thirty-seven. His principle innovation was to combine the newly fashionable Arts and Crafts ideas with his own interpretation of Scottish vernacular architecture, often with highly original detailing.
MacLaren was perhaps the most significant contemporary influence on the young Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who visited and sketched a number of MacLaren’s works including his redesign of Stirling High School in Scotland. It has been later acknowledged that Mackintosh adopted elements of MacLaren's materials, massing and design-vocabulary, nowhere more evident than in the Glasgow Herald Building (now The Lighthouse) – which was Mackintosh’s first public commission. Elements of Stirling High School's style were reproduced here at Avonmore Road, including the low portico and the octagonal tower with lantern, echoes of which can also be seen in MacLaren’s impressive Palace Court off Bayswater Road, which has been referred to as an ‘urban arts and crafts tour de force.’
22a Avonmore Road was acquired by the prominent sculptor Kenneth Armitage in 1959, who lived and worked here until his death in 2002. Since 2005, occupancy of the house and studio has been awarded every twoyears to a different sculptor under a Fellowship scheme that Armitage himself initiated. Upstairs, the house contains several of Armitage’s works, as well as his extensive library. The studio on the ground floor also retains elements of his workshop, including an anvil, a gantry and sculpture turntable that Armitage acquired from fellow sculptor Jacob Epstein.
2016 marked Kenneth Armitage’s Centenary year, and was celebrated with a career-spanning touring exhibition and two new books about his work. Copies are available for browsing in the living room. The current fellow, David Murphy took up residency in 2015, and will remain at Avonmore Road until October 2017.
The generous volumes and architectural details of the original house and studio remain largely intact, with Armitage’s own additions of ground- and first-floor mezzanines being sympathetically installed. Quite remarkably, the building has been in active use as a sculpture studio for more than 125 years.
There’s much to see, but keep an eye open for:
- Gothic-period bat-shaped door-knocker;
- Curious ‘Minoan’ pillars on the portico, a forerunner of MacLaren’s treatment of the entrance to Palace Court.
- Octagonal tower with lantern also became one of MacLaren’s signatures, and would originally have featured a weather-vane. (See W. Curtis Green’s Sketch)
- Decorative scrolled waste-water hoppers on façade;
- Ship’s-mast newel-post in the hub of the turnpike stair;
- Slotted trapdoor in living room floor (formerly the painting studio) to drop canvasses through;
- Pither Studio stove, dating from the early 1960s, which burns anthracite beans;
- Scale House Model, a gift from the current resident’s brother, Tom Murphy, gives a useful overview of the relative proportions and layout of the ‘Studio House’.
For further information about James M MacLaren see Alan Calder’s excellent monograph “James MacLaren, Arts and Crafts Pioneer”, 2003. Admirers of MacLaren’s work may also be interested in joining the James M MacLaren Society, with regular meetings and biannual journals. See the website formoredetails: jmmaclaren.org
For more information about the Kenneth Armitage Foundation see: kennetharmitagefoundation.org.uk
For more information about the current resident artist David Murphy please visit his website: davidmurphystudio.co.uk