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  • Belfast Between The Wars


Northern Whig, Tuesday 26th January 1937


Mr. William F. H. Fry has long been in the front rank of damask designers. He is not so well known as a painter, but his first exhibition, which opened yesterday at Messrs. Robinson & Cleaver’s, should make his name familiar in that sphere also. He was one of a small group of painters in Belfast who worked continuously with Paul Neitsche, and he has all Neitsche’s meticulousness, though he is never a copyist.

Probably the most realistic painting in the exhibition is No.42 (“Going to the Meet”), which never becomes the mere photograph of a hunt, to which subjects often decline. The discipline of the designer has obviously strongly influenced his treatment of the hounds here, but it is interesting to notice how he throws one into the shadow and another into the light, to break up the pattern and give greater interest to the design.

One of the best pictures in the exhibition is No.35 (“The Old Barn”), which is entirely knife work. The barn itself has a fine architectural quality, the outlines are sharply defined, and the pattern emphasised by touches of red. No.41 is also broadly treated, and colouring is used to strengthen the atmosphere much as the figures are used to emphasise the character of the painting. Colour is one of Mr. Fry’s strong points, and he can capture the feeling of seasons simply by changes of tone. He has a winter time study of swans sailing on a pond, the whole picture veiled in a cold mist that is, nevertheless, lightened by judicious touches on sky and water. This is done entirely with the brush, and proves that Mr. Fry is as unsuccessful in the traditional as in the modern medium.


The care that is spent on detail is illustrated by No.20 (“Journey’s End”), which has a splendid feeling of space. The general effect is so broad that there would seem to be a complete absence of any detail, but Mr. Fry strengthens and lightens his picture by breaking up the even surface of the bridge. A study in spring light is No.48, which is done in greens, and shows a pleasant country lane in which three boys are playing marbles. The boys are sketched in just sufficiently to give life to the scene of which they are an integral part.

For the capturing of a mood No.47 (“The Island Ruin”), is probably the most arresting picture on view. It is done in a range of colours that are amazing for their suggesting quality, and the placing of the lonely heron gives a strange medieval quality to the painting. In contrast to this revival of a dead age is No.50, which exudes vitality and warmth.

Mr. Fry is showing a few portraits which are notable for their vitality and character. A sketch study of David Webster shows how from the beginning character is expressed. The portrait of James McKinley is remarkable for its significance of detail. The post is admirably caught and even line in it is of interest and value. There is only one watercolour on view, and this was done when the artist was 17. Even in this early study is to be seen the leaning towards strength – parts of this are even suggestive of oils – and there is to be seen a tendency to change shapes as the painting progressed. Thus what was intended to be a figure is modified to an effect of shadow, and the whole design is really worked in with the painting.

The exhibition will be open daily until 6th February.


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