Artist Biographies

Arthur Ralph Middleton Todd RA

A. R. Middleton Todd was born near Newlyn, Cornwall on 26 October 1891, the son of the painter Ralph Todd. He studied painting in Cornwall under Stanhope Forbes, RA, before going on to study at the Central School of Arts and Crafts. He served in the Motor Transport Section of the Royal Army Service Corps during World War One, before resuming his art training at the Slade School under the tuition of Henry Tonks. His first work exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts came in 1918 with the oil painting 'The Gipsy Girl'. Todd left the Slade in 1921 and spent time studying and working abroad in France, Italy and Holland. His later work was said to have been strongly influenced by the style of Dutch painting. In 1923 he was elected an Associate of the Society of Painter Etchers and Engravers, and full membership followed in 1930.

In 1929 he was elected an Associate of the Watercolour Society, and a full member in 1937. He exhibited regularly during this period at the Royal Academy and became an Associate in 1939 and a full member in 1949. A watercolour portrait shown at the Academy in 1931 attracted genuine praise: 'Mr Middleton Todd's sketch in water colour is one of the most masterly things in the whole exhibition, worth acres of ordinary portraiture . . .' In 1934 the Royal Academy purchased his pastel work entitled 'Girl Reading' and in 1940 the Chantrey Bequest bought his oil painting entitled 'Picture Book' for the Tate Gallery. In 1945 Middleton Todd was elected a member of the New English Art Club, and in 1958 he was elected to the Royal Society of Portrait Painters.

Middleton Todd's teaching career began in 1934 at the Leicester School of Art where he was head of department until 1936, when he returned to London to take up the position of Master of the Life Class in Regent Street. From c. 1946 to 1949 he taught at the Royal Academy Schools and later at the City and Guilds School, Kennington from c. 1947 to 1956. Don Steyn, in the introduction to the catalogue of the exhibition of Middleton Todd's work at the Fosse Gallery, Stow-on-the-Wold in 1985, quotes Roland Batchelor RWS, who was a pupil of Middleton Todd's at Kennington: 'What I gained most from Todd was a better understanding of tonal qualities. He had a wonderful feeling for tone and colour. He saw things in a very subtle way, his harmony of colours was delightful. Pastel as a medium suited him because he loved the muted colour. His great love was Degas, and he liked Degas type models. Small, intimate portraits of were his favourite subjects . . .' Steyn adds in his introduction: 'Middleton Todd was undoubtedly a brilliant teacher whose pupils admired and respected him greatly. He was a shy and sensitive man and very modest, for one so talented . . . and had great charm, albeit with a caustic wit.

Middleton Todd's earlier career was characterised by the use of watercolour and by etching, but as time went on, he practically confined himself to oil painting. He painted numerous fine commissioned portraits, including the Archbishop of Canterbury. He had a self-critical attitude to his work, he destroyed much, abandoned more, and it was not easy to get him to paint a portrait. He turned down many commissions, refusing on more than one occasion to sell work even when asked to name his own price.' Middleton Todd died on 21 November 1966 at the age of 75.
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