A guest post by Dr Lucy Hughes, the College’s Modern Archivist:
At a time when Tate Britain is running an exhibition on Picasso and Modern British Art (until July 15), it is interesting to be reminded that a piece of work by one of Britain’s foremost surrealists, Sir Roland Penrose, survives as a mural in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. The image of mythical beasts in combat is preserved behind perspex in a room in I staircase, where it was discovered during redecoration work in 1976. In the Modern Archive, a few steps from the mural itself, are preserved letters between Penrose and A. C. Clark-Kennedy, then Domestic Bursar, which shed light on how the mural came to be there in the first place. Penrose recalls that the architect T. H. Lyon, who was responsible for adding rooms to New Court in the 1920s, encouraged the young Penrose in his love of painting and invited him to decorate one of the new rooms. The mural is dated 1921. Penrose was an undergraduate at Queens’ College, where he studied architecture, and amused himself by creating similar murals in friends’ rooms, mostly in King’s College, during his student years. In his letter to Clark-Kennedy, Penrose writes that he thinks it unlikely that any of the other murals he created have survived, and that he is touched to be reminded of his youthful efforts, which he had all but forgotten.
Penrose’s archive of papers and books is now at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, but correspondence between Clive Bell and members of Penrose’s circle (including Picasso) form part of the ‘Charleston Papers’ at King’s College, Cambridge. Farley Farm House, Chiddingly, East Sussex – the home that Penrose made with his second wife, the photographer Lee Miller – is the subject of an article published in Country Life, June 13 2012. Farley Farm House, which is preserved as a museum, contains many artworks collected by Penrose, and became a centre for creativity, visited by numerous artists and writers over the years. The mural in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, is an interesting example of an artist’s imagination awakening.