John Frederic Lloyd Strevens [1902-1990], british painter, was born in London. Although Strevens completed prints, watercolours and drawings, he was mainly a painter in oil with a rich palette, rather in the manner of John Singer Sargent and Philip Wilson Steer.
Strevens painted formal portraits but was especially noted for his pictures of women, flowers and interiors. His work was exhibited at the Royal Academy in London, and the Paris Salon, where he gained an Honourable Mention. He had several one-man exhibitions in England, Spain and widely throughout the U.S. The Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston, holds his work. A retrospective exhibition was held at Epping Forest District Museum in 1991.
Strevens had vivid memories of the late Edwardian era, of women in long white dresses, horse-drawn carts and quiet, dusty streets in east London where on a Sunday the only sound other than church bells was the tinkling of upright pianos in the front rooms of rows of terraced houses. The sense of time passing was central to his vision, and a deep nostalgia born out of the quiet elegance of the Edwardian era, which came to an abrupt end with the First World War.
In his 20s, his love of 19th century history paintings such as by Delaroche and La Thangue, which he discovered and copied in the Guildhall museum stood against the tide of new trends in the art world led by Bomberg with his magazine Blast, and Roger Fry’s Post-Impressionist exhibitions. He taught the violin and with his brother Frank, formed a quartet which played in the silent cinemas to pay for art classes in the Regent Street Polytechnic and later at Heatherly’s. It was here that during a lecture on the avant-garde and Cubism he famously walked out, saying “I thought art had something to do with beauty”. He never returned.That said, Strevens was no Luddite. Watching the first moon landings in 1969, he marvelled at the changes his generation had witnessed across the 20h century, recalling how as a boy he had joined a group of boys running through the streets in pursuit of a small puttering sound in the sky. It was his first glimpse of a ‘flying machine’. Radio, let alone television, seemed nothing short of miraculous to him, and he admired the art that went into the design of cars and engines.
Looking back, Strevens would laugh that he disliked 1920s womens fashions so much that he didn’t marry his first wife Janie until the 1930s, when women’s fashions become more feminine. Inspired by the work of John Singer Sargent, he then embarked on more ambitious commissioned portraits of women and children, often in satin or chiffon evening gowns. It was not a big step to make from these society portraits, to paintings of his own children dressing up, such as “The Three Princesses” to imagined scenes of women in costume. Having painted his family so often, they could serve as models or as inspiration, without the need for them to pose.
After the Second World War, the romanticim of New Look fashion, Hollywood “retro” films like Gone with the Wind, Gigi and My Fair Lady seemed to echo Strevens’s own ‘harking back’ to the elegance of Edwardian London and the Paris of the Belle Epoque. Strevens was an avid collector of 19th century sheet music and magazines like the Strand, the Illustrated London News and the Figaro Illustré, and now he used them as references for pictures set in London and in Paris which he often visited with his second wife Julia. Alongside paintings of Spanish dancers in colourful costumes, which similarly became subjects for the burgeoning print market, Strevens’s oil paintings of period scenes became increasingly sought after. This gave him the pretext to wander through the old streets of Paris which he loved and recollect a vision of London during the time of horse-drawn vehicles. Strevens’s costume painting, the “Woman in Black” reproduced in the International Art Directory, attracted the attention of the New Orleans art dealer Kurt E Schon. This was the beginning of a long relationship and from the 1960s onwards, the demand grew for Strevens’s paintings of imaginary scenes and collections of his work developed particularly in the USA.