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Artist Profile - Peggy Angus

Have you ever heard of the artist and designer Peggy Angus? I am ashamed to admit that I only discovered her work very recently...

It was when I was looking for some wallpaper, I had something very specific in mind, something I had seen online. It wasn’t credited on the image I had seen so I began the search. The design was a beautiful blue block print with a sunshine emblem. I finally found it. It had been reproduced by the brilliant Cambridge Imprints as a decorative paper and was actually called ‘Medallion’. Cambridge Imprint credited Peggy Angus and I was intrigued. A quick Google search and I discovered that this prolific artist was an absolute force of nature and someone I needed to find out more about.

Peggy Angus (9 November 1904 – 28 October 1993) was a British painter, designer, influential teacher and a highly inventive designer of flat pattern.

Born in a railway station in Chile in 1904, the eleventh of thirteen children of a Scottish railway engineer. She spent her first five years in Chile before her family moved to England. She attended the North London Collegiate School, where she showed an early talent for art. In 1922, she won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art, where she studied painting and design under Paul Nash and where her contemporaries at the time included Eric Ravilous, Edward Bawden, Enid Marx and Helen Binyon.

Peggy Angus

Her life was filled with remarkable creativity which she was keen to share enthusiastically with others. She apparently wept when she first gained her teaching qualification with distinction fearing teaching full time would frustrate her creativity. It was for this reason she initiated a part time system at the National London Collegiate School for girls and subsequently never taught full time (yes mate).

As head of art at NLCS she built one of the most remarkable school art departments in the country. She fought hard for the building, the curriculum, for materials and she employed the best people. In a highly academic school she gave art a worth. Angus believed vehemently that art was an important part of a person’s development. She shared William Morris’s conviction that art and life are inseparable and that we are all of us artists; that art is not a hierarchy. She was inventive as a teacher and following the war when materials were in short supply, her students made potato and lino prints. She also gave students the opportunity to contribute to ambitious projects and collaborate on real commissions like the tiles covering the school’s staircases.

She travelled extensively throughout her life and captured her experiences with great intuition. The figurative portraits of people, places and scenes she painted are highly original and even feature in the National Portrait Gallery although she became best known for her hand printed wallpaper (that she reportedly roped her students in to help create!) and as a tile designer. The extraordinary designs for her wallpaper and tiles were often inspired by her travels, heraldic symbols and medieval designs.

'Ramsey Macdonald with Members of his Family' Peggy Angus -1930s ,National Portrait Gallery

In 1960, she won the Sanderson centenary competition for wallpaper design and her patterns were used by Cole and by Sanderson but she preferred the less predictable effects of hand-printing, using small lino blocks and household emulsion often roping in friends and students to assist in the process!

Back in 1933 she had begun renting a small cottage at the foot of the Sussex Downs named ‘Furlongs’. The interior she created became as eccentric and colourful as that of Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell at Charleston. For more than 50 years it became a gathering place for many artists and family friends such as Eric Ravilious and Percy Horton. Alexander Calder was also a regular visitor to the cottage and the loo roll holder in the outside shed lavatory (apparently a very basic bucket under a bench!) was allegedly created by him using a wire coat hanger! The cottage was full of brightly painted furniture, her own colourful hand printed wallpaper, party invitations, posters, scary masks, pots and mosaics. A creative hub for many, the walls were crammed with art by her artist friends and students.

'Peggy Angus Sat on a Bed' Tirzah Garwood

So, after her remarkable achievements in the fields of education and design, why is it that Peggy Angus is not a household name? One possible explanation is that she is part of a generation of artists and designers often overlooked after a taste change in the 1960’s. Another factor could be that a lot of her work was done for private clients which kept it out of sight. But it seems that sadly like a lot of women (particularly artists) she has just been written out of history. One example of this, is the occasion, she designed a 50ft long futuristic tile mural for the British section of the Brussels World Fair yet the male architects at the time were not keen to share the credit for the design’s success. Unbelievably, Angus was not even invited to the opening ceremony and actually travelled to view it in situ at her own cost and even her own ex-husband (the architecture writer JM Richards) omitted to mention her in his own biography, WHAT THE?!

Tile design Peggy Angus
Peggy Angus Mural Design at Brussels World Fair, 1958

Tile design Peggy Angus
Peggy Angus tiles at Lansbury Lawrence Primary School

Tile Design Peggy Angus

Angus died in London in 1993 at the age of 88. Her work was characterised by bold shapes, symbols and colours and was a joy to behold. She has inspired many artists and makers and there has been a resurgence of interest in her work; perhaps now she will finally gain the public recognition she deserves!

NB. It is possible to purchase some of Peggy Angus’s designs to use in your interior projects. Blithfield produce wallpapers and fabrics in a selection of patterns which can be found online here. Cambridge Imprint has also created a collection of patterned papers that can be viewed and purchased here.

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