Cyril Mann and the girl in the green jumper

Blog — 15 Mar 2024

Drawing has always been an important part of our practice. In the early days my drawings generated far more PR interest than the domestic work that we undertook as a fledgling studio. We (Andy Trevillion & I) studied at The Polytechnic of Central London, now Westminster University, and under the tuition of Doug Clelland and Eric Parry drawing was not only encouraged but it was refined to become central to the communication of design ideas. My thesis, design drawings of Rome, were hung in the RA (Royal Academy) summer show.

In the early 1980s when we started out, I was drawing for pleasure and building a body of work that recorded the cities and landscapes that I had visited and explored. At the time I lived in Ladbroke Grove and I came across a gallery in Portland Road called The Holland Gallery. It was run by two enthusiastic women, Renske Mann and Marion Mathews who set it up to showcase the unrecognised genius of a painter called Cyril Mann. The gallery also had a remit to help young artists get established, by offering exhibition space and by taking a much lower commission than most commercial galleries.

Cyril Mann Self Portrait 1950. Renske Mann - Photograph of Original in Private Collection

It transpired that the reason for Renske’s altruistic approach was rooted in her own life story. She had married an artist twice her age - Cyril Mann.

Mann is a vastly underrated London artist who worked the same subject matter as David Bomberg, Leon Kossoff and to some extent Frank Auerbach, but has never achieved their level of recognition. His story is beautifully narrated in Renske’s book The Girl in the Green Jumper, which in turn has been developed into a play.

Whilst it is a sad story (with a very happy ending), it is an enlightening snapshot of life in post war London, a life of poverty, struggle and ultimately liberation.

Renske, 1963, oil on canvas, © The Artist’s Estate courtesy of Piano Nobile

Renske gave me and my brother Andrew, a graduate of Chelsea School of Art and a painter, a joint show, and after that I held two solo shows at the gallery which is now run by Robert Travers as Piano Nobile. It was an extraordinarily generous enterprise, which has evolved into a forty-year friendship with Renske and Marion that endures to this day.

The play, ‘The Girl in the Green Jumper‘ is currently being performed at the excellent Playground Theatre at 8 Latimer Road W10, not far from the original Holland Gallery in North Kensington. This is my patch, I've lived round the corner for thirty years, built Designers Guild’s HQ - almost opposite the theatre - and Damon Albarn’s Studio a few doors down.

This play is a fascinating insight into the creative and frustrated mind of a painter and the collateral damage that comes with it. I recommend seeking it out, it has a short two-week season (ends 24 March 2024) and it is a great way to discover a new and brave cultural enterprise in North Kensington.

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