Arthur Ralph Middleton Todd, RA RWS RE RP NEAC (1891-1966)
Middleton Todd has been described, by fellow artist, Robert Buhler, as ‘by far the most sensitive and accomplished painter of his generation’ (Foreword to Works from the Studio of A R Middleton Todd, Stow on the Wold: Fosse Gallery, 1985). His mature achievement as a portraitist was founded on a versatile oeuvre, in which he produced paintings, drawings and etchings of a wide range of subjects that included figures, landscapes and still life compositions. He particularly enjoyed drawing nudes in pastel, in emulation of his hero, Degas. Though modest and self-critical, he passed on many artistic insights as a successful teacher. Arthur Todd – as he was initially known – was born at 10 Clifton Terrace, Clifton Hill, Newlyn, Cornwall, on 26 October 1891, the younger of two children of the painter, Ralph Todd, and his wife, Vasilesa (née Trahair), the daughter of a builder and carpenter. By 1901, the family had moved a short distance to 10 Carne Road.
From 1907, Arthur studied under his father’s friend, Stanhope Forbes, at the Newlyn School of Painting, and then in London at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, where his father sometimes taught. It was at the latter that he learned etching. By 1911, his family had moved to Mawgan-in-Meneage, southeast of Helston.
During the First World War, Todd served in the Motor Transport Company of the Royal Army Service Corps. Following demobilisation, he began to establish himself as an artist, exhibiting at the Royal Academy of Arts for the first time in 1918, while living at 226 Lauderdale Mansions, Maida Vale. However, he continued to study, taking classes at the Slade School of Fine Art under Henry Tonks during the year 1920-21. He then spent time working in France, Italy and Holland, and particularly absorbed the influence of Dutch painting. By 1922, Todd was working from 18 Cathcart Studios, 34 Redcliffe Road, Chelsea, and identifying himself as ‘A R Middleton Todd’. During his early career, he essayed a range of subjects in a variety of materials, including watercolour, pastel and etching, as well as oils. This led him to exhibit widely and, between the wars, gain election to a number of leading societies: the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers (ARE 1923, RE 1930), the Royal Society of Painters in Water-Colours (ARWS 1929, RWS 1937) and the Royal Academy (ARA 1939, RA 1949). His dealers included Connell & Sons and the Rowley Gallery.
Todd would prove to be an inspiring teacher. He became head of drawing and painting at Leicester School of Art in 1934, and returned to London two years later to take up the position of master of the life class at Regent Street Polytechnic School of Art. During the Second World War, he received a number of commissions from the War Artists’ Advisory Committee to draw and paint individuals, presaging his later career as a specialist in portraits in oils. These works included Auxiliary Fireman Herbert Baker (Imperial War Museums) and Sub-Officer Henry Shaw (Manchester Art Gallery), both exhibited at RA in 1942. By this time, he was living at 71 Campden Street, Kensington, his home for the remainder of his life.
Though Todd joined the New English Art Club in 1945, and remained a member until 1955, he developed a closer relationship with the Royal Academy. Teaching at the RA Schools between 1946 and 1949, he was elected a full Royal Academician at the end of that period, and in the same year began to sit on the Academy’s Council (1949-51, and again in 1958-59). He also taught at the City and Guilds of London Art School, Kennington, from the late 1940s until 1956, his pupils there including Ann Le Bas and both Roland and Bernard Batchelor. His exhibits at the RA during this later period are dominated by portraits of such leading establishment figures as academics, clerics, politicians and soldiers, but also include pastel drawings of flowers and nudes – the last influenced by the work of one of Todd’s favourite artists, Edgar Degas. Though he turned down the offer of becoming the President of the Pastel Society in 1954, he gladly accepted election to the Royal Society of Portrait Painters in 1958, an honour that confirmed his standing as a master of portraiture. Middleton Todd died in London on 21 November 1966, and was buried alongside his parents and brother-in-law in the churchyard of the village of Devoran, Cornwall. He was survived by his sister, Charlotte.
His work is represented in numerous public collections, including the British Museum and Guildhall Art Gallery; and the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford). His papers are held in the collections of the Royal Academy.