September 2021

The Return to England

Autobiographical Notes

Katharine arrived back in England in 1946, divorced and unhappy and, sadly, with serious alcohol problems. She went to live with her parents at the family home in Kingston-upon-Thames.

We know very little about Katharine’s work at this time. As well as doing art and design work, she did work as a self employed dressmaker, something she had already started to do in New York, and which she continued in the UK for the rest of her life.

In a letter dated 10th August 1947 to her brother Richard, who was at the time in Kuala Lumpur on a photographic assignment for the Central Office of Information, Katharine mentions ‘having a commission for designs in Sweden to do’. This appears to have been for the famous Stockholm based department store Nordiska Kompaniet.

Reco and Katharine on a visit to Sweden in August 1939

In fact Katharine and Reco had visited Sweden in the 1930’s, when Reco had various assignments there. This photograph from the Svenska Dagbladet shows them both on one of their visits:

The newspaper cutting on the back of the photo reads:

“In my opinion, your country is a world leader in the field of handicrafts and the art industry - neither England, France, Germany nor America can create anything lucrative. In the Swedish style, clarity is united in thought with solid knowledge, and you are also lucky enough to have an unbroken tradition behind you.”

“I have been to Sweden several times in recent years, and each time I return with joy and anticipation. So says one of England's foremost authorities in the field, Mr Reco Capey from London, who came to Stockholm in company with his wife to look at what we have done recently in the arts and crafts and art industry. Mr. Capey, who radiates a bribing vitality and whose sources of interest seems to be very wide-ranging, carries out a number of different tasks in his homeland.”

The item does not mention any projects Katharine may have been involved with, but it could be that on this visit, or others where she accompanied Reco, she may have made contacts that she was able to use for later work there.

In August-September 1947, Katharine exhibited her work ‘Toadstools’ at the prestigious Leicester Galleries in London, in an exhibition titled ‘Artists of Fame and of Promise’.  The exhibition included 208 works by a variety of artists, including Paul Nash, Paul Klee, Modigliani, Picasso, Augustus John and Duncan Grant, amongst other eminent names.

In 1948 and 1949 there are also references to work Katharine was doing on pictures.  The ‘Illustrated London News’ edition of Christmas 1948, ran a feature in which she is shown working on her collage ‘Butterflies’. Other pictures are included of collages she had produced in the USA and brought back on her return.  One of these is the work ‘Fishes’, which she presumably sold in England, as it is not now in the possession of her family, as are all her unsold pictures.

The Illustrated London News Christmas Edition 1948

Katharine had a final one-woman show at Bredon’s Bookshop and Art Dealer’s gallery in Brighton in May/June 1949. It included twenty ‘Scissor Mosaic’ (sic) pictures, of which fifteen or so are still in the family. A letter from the gallery to Katharine in May 1947, as the exhibition is about to close, expresses regret that none of the works has sold:

“Regarding sales, I am afraid that the answer is disappointing, as so far there have been none. This, I think, is due to the very general ‘quietness’ in all the galleries, both in London and the provinces, at the present time.”

However, a few of the works in the exhibition are not now owned by Katharine’s family (Blackberries, Romance, Basket of Fish and Wheatsheaf), so one assumes they did sell subsequently.

In spite of some modest apparent success, Katharine’s pictures did not sell well in the UK. She became increasingly dependent on dressmaking for her living.

The last date that anyone in the family can recall Katharine working on an ‘appliqué’ or paper painting, is around 1953 or 1954, when she finished a work depicting the sights of London, with the River Thames, St. Paul’s Cathedral and guardsmen in bearskins. This picture was sold – but the buyer never paid for it. That was the sad end of Katharine Bertram’s artistic career.