If you’ve not heard of Croydon artist Evacustus Phipson, you’ve missed out

By - Monday 4th April, 2016

A radical watercolour painter? Croydon had one of those, says Tony Skrzypczyk

Photo by Bygone Croydon, used with permission.

On Thursday 3rd March I took part in a ninety minute guided walk in the centre of Croydon to look at the sites of some of the works of Evacustes Arthur Phipson, a little-known but prolific watercolour painter of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. It was led by Emily Lansell, collections officer, and Lindsay Ould, borough archivist, from the Museum of Croydon.

We learned that Edward Arthur Phipson was born on February 9th 1854 at King’s Norton, near Birmingham. His family was engaged in local manufacturing and he seems to have received a good education and possibly trained for a time as an architect. He adopted the name ‘Evacustes’ himself, its etymology presumably being from the Ancient Greek for ‘ready obeyer or listener’. He believed in ‘the rights of men to live without the bondage of the monetary system in a world where a universal type of speech might bring about a universal world of love’.

In 1881 he used a legacy of £16,000 in an attempt to establish a single tax colony in Australia and was later involved in another unsuccessful co-operative community at Topolobampo, Mexico. He was a prolific painter and towards the end of his life Phipson lived in Croydon supporting himself by selling his paintings, often to the local library for very small sums. As a result, the Croydon Art Collection holds some 340 plus works of his many local views. He died in 1931 at the Retreat in Rye, Sussex.

Phipson would annotate his paintings with changes that he had made to the real subject

We visited the sites of around ten of his local paintings and the paintings were shown to us and discussed. We were encouraged to take photographs of the present day sites which could possibly form part of Croydon’s archive and serve to illustrate changes through time to future generations.

The most interesting aspect of Evacustes Phipson’s work was his desire to paint romanticised views of Croydon although the buildings themselves were shown very accurately. He often annotated his paintings with changes that he had made, or aspects that he had retained that were not there. It seems that he felt torn between depicting the world as he would wish to see it and recreating it in his art, and his respect for its real-life details. This was therefore a very interesting and informative walk and even the weather was much improved from the previous day.

This artist is part of Croydon’s little-known cultural history and I recommend anyone who would like to find out more about him to visit the current exhibition of some of his works at the Museum of Croydon in the Clocktower, Katharine Street. Admission is free and the exhibition is open until Saturday 9th April. My thanks go to the Museum of Croydon for organising such an interesting walk.

Tony Skrzypczyk

Tony Skrzypczyk

Tony has lived in Croydon for over 55 years and is now enjoying early retirement. He's a founder member of The Friends of Shirley Windmill,and its current Secretary, a member and committee member of the Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society and on the Steering Group of East Croydon Community Organisation. Tony is very interested in the history and culture of Croydon and is also currently volunteering at Croydon Archives in the work of cataloging the collections.

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