Roland Vivian Pitchforth

Photo:View of damage to the roof of Westminster Hall (1941) by Vivian Pitchforth

View of damage to the roof of Westminster Hall (1941) by Vivian Pitchforth

Copyright Westminster City Archives

1895 - 1982

By Ronan Thomas

Roland (Vivian) Pitchforth, an artist of great range and flexibility, was born in 1895 and educated at Wakefield Grammar School. He trained at the Wakefield School of Art (1912-1914) and at Leeds College of Art during 1914 -1915, where his contemporaries included artist Raymond Coxon and sculptors Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore. After serving in the Wakefield Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery during the Great War – which permanently damaged his hearing - Vivian Pitchforth returned to complete his studies at Leeds during 1919-1920 and won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art (RCA), Kensington. He was a pupil of William Rothenstein at the RCA from 1920-1925 and after visiting Paris was appointed to his first teaching post at Camberwell School of Art in 1926. He taught at the Clapham School of Art from 1926-1929. He held his first exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1922, a one man show at the London Artists' Association in 1928 and became a member of the London Group in 1929. He exhibited further at the Lefevre, Redfern, Coolings and Leicester galleries. From 1930-1937, he taught at St Martin’s School of Art and from 1937-1939 at the Royal College of Art (RCA). Throughout the 1930s, he painted oil and watercolour portraits and landscapes, including Night Transport (1939).

During 1940-1945, Pitchforth served as an official war artist for the Ministries of Information, Home Security, Supply and for the Admiralty. In March 1940, he was given a brief to depict the work of the Air Raid Precaution (ARP) organisation and in December secured a six month appointment with the Ministries of Home Security and Supply. In a series of pencil, watercolour, oil and lithograph pieces, he depicted ARP training, war damage, military production and naval scenes. Many of these were singled out for praise by the War Artists' Advisory Committee (WAAC) and exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1941. They included: AFS Practice with a Trailer-Pump on the banks of the Serpentine, Anti-Aircraft Guns Under Construction,  4.5 inch Anti Aircraft Shells (1941), Checking the Diameter of the Bore of a 4.5 inch AA Gun (1941), Fitting Paravene Tail and Rudder (1941), Welding Bofors Guns (1941), Hurricane Cranes (1942), AA Battery (1943), Crusader Tanks on Manoeuvres (1943), Tank Park (1943), Gunboats on Patrol (1943), Gun Pit: AA Battery, Upnor (1943), Parachutists Landing (1944), Gibraltar Harbour with Escort Ships Going to Sea (1944), Painting Ships (1944),‘Philante’ in Charge of Night Exercises with Escorts and Submarines (1944) and Gibraltar (1944).

He also painted a series of London war damage scenes including Cloister Court, House of Commons (1), (2) (1941), View of damage to the roof of Westminster Hall (1941), The Chamber: House of Commons (1941), Demolition Workers, Oxford Street, London W1, Sunday Morning, Great Titchfield Street, London W1 and Post Office Buildings: the Telephone Exchange. His artist’s eye picked out the many bleak and surreal sights on London’s bomb sites. In March 1941, he described sketching damaged lift shafts open to the elements: “They look like dead prehistoric animals lying over the jagged walls”.

Pitchforth subsequently specialised in coastal scenes, joined several naval convoys to Gibraltar and the Azores and produced paintings on RAF test flights and maintenance subjects.

Commissioned in October 1943 as a temporary captain in the Royal Marines, Pitchforth was attached to the Royal Navy and in 1945 was sent by South Eastern Command to record the naval campaigns to retake Burma and Ceylon. During the British assault on Rangoon, he assisted in the camouflaging of his group’s amphibious craft. He captured the events in a series of paintings of Colombo Harbour and in The First British troops in Rangoon (1945). At war’s end, Pitchforth acquired a lung infection and spent 1945-1946 convalescing in South Africa (he still managed to exhibit at Wildenstein’s Gallery) before returning to London in 1948.

From 1945 to the mid 1960s, Pitchforth switched to painting solely in watercolours and resumed his teaching career. From 1947 he taught at Chelsea Polytechnic, Camberwell and St Martin’s Art Schools (life drawing evening classes) and at the John Cass faculty of Art from 1965-1974. He was elected Associate of the Royal Academy in 1942, RA in 1953 and Senior RA in 1970. During his career, he exhibited further in New York, Paris, South Africa, at the Sydney Art Gallery, the Hamilton Gallery, New Zealand, in Canada, Poland, Belgium and Sweden. In Britain, his exhibitions were held at the Tate Gallery and at regional galleries including Wakefield, Leeds, Southport, Stoke, Rochdale, Preston, Salford, Aberdeen and Liverpool. Many of his paintings are held by the British Government Art Collection, Imperial War Museum, National Museum of Wales, Victoria and Albert Museum and Tate Britain.

Vivian Pitchforth died in 1982.

This page was added by Camilla Bergman on 25/10/2010.
Comments about this page

Searching my family history I have managed to find RV Pitchforth who I had always understood was my great uncle but I now find he was actually my mothers cousin. I would love to hear from anyone who could expand on his life for me, while this site is great for details of his work there is no mention of whether he married and had children.

By mary gray
On 26/11/2010

How exciting for us to have a relative of Pitchforth! Sadly we cannot do any further research on him but hopefully someone else will respond to your comment with more details. We are holding an exhibition at the SW1 Gallery in Victoria from 9 December to the 13 January. See the Events page for more details.

By Camilla Bergman
On 26/11/2010

Vivian Pitchforth taught my father at St Martin's in the 1920s. And he taught Francis Hoyland the great painter and etcher who still remembers him fondly. Francis said he was a lovely man above all, a brilliant watercolourist and a fantastic teacher. If you have any other news....

By Toby Follett
On 22/07/2011

I have been doing some genealogy research and RV Pitchforth was my Grandads cousin. In answer to Mary's question, he married Edith Brenda Matthews in Chelsea during the July quarter of 1932 (Edith died in 1977), although currently I have found no records relating to any children.

By Chris Howell
On 04/10/2011

Edith Brenda Matthews was my great aunt. They had no children. My family was very fond of Viv, he was a great character, a good sense of humour and, as we know, a very talented artist.

By A Hart
On 02/05/2012

Vivian Pitchforth's classes in life drawing were highspots in my training at Camberwell Art School. His precise analytical ink drawings done against one's own weak efforts were highly valued; although rather deaf, his insightful comments on how to interpret what is seen before us were memorable and a lasting influence. A wonderful teacher.

By John Hamilton
On 14/06/2012

Vivian Pitchforth was my sister's godfather and Brenda was my godmother, after whom I was named. They were good friends of my parents John and Stephanie (nee Roll) Lake who studied at Eastbourne School of Art and RCA. They went on painting trips together before the last war? I was taught by Viv at St Martin's in the '60s. My father considered him to be one of the great teachers of life drawing.

By Brenda Sorrell
On 25/04/2013

Emma Pitchforth was Vivian Pitchforth cousin her father being Joseph Pitchforth, Emma's grandson Ken Verrill born 1930 who lives in Loftus Cleveland,  Trevor Atkinson distant cousin and friend of Ken. 

By Trevor Atkinson
On 19/06/2017

Sorry Emma Pitchforth father was Hector Pitchforth, the brother of Joseph Pitchforth who was Roland Vivian Pitchforth's father which makes them cousins.

By Trevor Atkinson
On 02/07/2017

I'm very interested to see the comments by relatives above. Vivian Pitchforth's grandfather was my great, great grandfather George William Smart who married Ellen Mary Pollard. Their daughter Margaret Smart married Joseph Pitchforth and they are the parents of Vivian and Gerald Pitchforth. 

By A.S
On 11/06/2018

Sorry, Emma Pitchforth father was John Francis Pitchforth 1840. she is 1st cousin to Joseph Pitchforth 1862, the father of Roland Vivian Pitchforth.

By Trevor Atkinson
On 23/09/2018

Emma Jane Worth Pitchforth was my great grandmother  born in 1865 she married Thomas England, I have an original painting  by. Gerald Pitchforth sent to me while doing family history research in 2000, Hector Pitchforth ( the loneliest man in the world) is my 3 times removed cousin

By Michael heppenstall
On 15/08/2020

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.