Clifford Ellis (1907-1985) was born in Bognor Regis, East Sussex and studied at St. Martin’s School of Art and the Regent Street Polytechnic, before taking a one-year postgraduate teacher training course. He joined the staff of the Regent Street Polytechnic for eight years, and it was here that he met Rosemary Collinson. After their marriage in 1931, they worked as partners designing posters and book jackets, their imagery revealing an overwhelming interest in, and love of, the British countryside and the creatures that inhabit it. Signing their work simply ‘C&RE’, they also shared a love of fresh bright colour and bold design. After moving to Bath in 1936, Rosemary taught art at the Royal School for Daughters of Officers of the Army in Lansdown, whilst Clifford became Assistant at the Technical College. After two years he was promoted to Head of the Bath School of Art.
With the advent of the war, the Ellises continued their teaching and design work and Clifford set up the Bath Art Club with monthly lectures by prestigious speakers such as John Piper and Nikolaus Pevsner. He painted Bath’s cast iron railings for the Recording Britain project, executed watercolours of bomb damaged buildings and VE Day celebrations in Bath, and devised camouflage schemes for the military. After securing the lecturing services of Walter Sickert for the benefit of students he added the latter’s name, as Patron and Honorary Lecturer, to the staff list of the School of Art. When the School was destroyed in the Bath Blitz of April 1942, new premises were found for the students, first in the home of the Sickerts in Bathampton, later at 99/100 Sydney Place.
After war ended in 1945 Ellis sought a new home for what he conceived as a residential school of art, where students would be trained within two years to become art teachers, whilst experiencing the performing arts and poetry as well as the visual arts. He compiled a list of possible premises that included Corsham Court, newly released from its use as a military hospital, and when Lord Methuen (one of Sickert’s former pupils) telephoned him they struck a deal within minutes whereby Ellis’s Bath Academy of Art would occupy one wing of the Court. Rosemary initially assumed a support role at the Academy, eventually heading up the Visual Communications Department.
The Ellis Family Archive that was given to the Victoria Art Gallery in 2016 is shared with the Bath Record Office. Amongst the gems of the collection are the wartime diary of Rosemary Ellis, posters designed in the 1930s for clients such as Shell and BP, and book cover artwork for the iconic Collins New Naturalists series (1945-82). Many of these items feature in this new book and in the Victoria Art Gallery’s exhibition, Making Art Matter: Clifford & Rosemary Ellis, on view from 8 September to 25 November 2018.