Emmy Bridgwater

1906Birmingham, United Kingdom | 1999Solihull, United Kingdom
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Britsh surrealist artist and poet.

Born in Birmingham in 1906, Emmy Bridgwater began her formal art education at the progressive Birmingham School of Art. Taught for three years by portrait artist Bernard Fleetwood-Walker (1893-1965), she became a skilled painter and draughtswoman. Attending the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition in London, the artist was inspired to join this radical new movement. Here, she met fellow Birmingham artists Conroy Maddox and John Melville, and the writer Robert Melville. She worked with them to establish the Birmingham Surrealist Group, which was later joined by Oscar Mellor (1921-2005) and Desmond Morris (1928). E. Bridgwater was a leading member of this ambitious circle of artists and writers, who met in the Kardomah Café, the Trocadero pub and at C. Maddox’s house. Throughout the 1930s and 40s, they acted as a collective, organising lectures and debates, to which they invited local academics and musicians.

During this period, E. Bridgwater juxtaposed unusual objects to reveal uncanny narratives; paintings such as Night Work is About to Commence (1940-43) are defined by her symbolic language of birds, water and organic forms. The artist’s desire to delve into the psyche was characteristic of the Birmingham Surrealist Group, who were intent on staying true to Surrealism’s original aims – as established by André Breton – to uncover the mind’s hidden corners. E. Bridgwater built strong and direct links with the Surrealists in Paris, including André Breton. He was impressed by her experiments in automatic ink drawing, as found in Meanings in the Round (c.1939), which saw her suppress conscious control in favour of chance.

E. Bridgwater also wrote much poetry, populated by the same symbols: birds, eggs and twisted forms. She published her poems in surrealist and modernist publications, including Arson, Free Unions–Unions Libres and Le Savoir Vivre. During her lifetime, her poetry inspired a leading British Surrealist with whom she had an affair in 1942, Toni del Renzio (1915-2007). Although Birmingham’s male Surrealists’ shunned London’s artists, E. Bridgwater bridged the gap between the two cities. In part, this was because she made a close friendship with fellow female Surrealist, Edith Rimmington (1902-1986).

In 1942 E. Bridgwater held her first solo show at Jack Bilbo’s Modern Gallery in London. By 1947, A. Breton selected her as one of just four British Surrealists to be exhibited at the International Surrealist show at Galerie Maeght, Paris. On this occasion, she was chosen to sign the 1947 declaration of the Surrealist Group in England, proving that she had become one of the most important members of the movement.

But, and as has been the case for so many women artists, caring duties took precedence over the artist’s career – she had to look after both her mother and disabled sister throughout the 1950s and 60s. E. Bridgwater did return to the scene in the 1970s, when she primarily produced collages, and exhibited in numerous group Surrealist shows, including Real Surreal: British and European Surrealism at Wolverhampton Art Gallery in 1995. She died in Solihull on 13 March 1999.

Ruth Millington

Biogaphy published with the support of the Mayor Gallery in London.


© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
Emmy Bridgwater — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Emmy Bridgwater, Untitled, c. 1940s, gouache on paper, 16 ¾ x 23 ¼ in. (42.5 x 59.2 cm) ), © The Mayor Gallery, London

Emmy Bridgwater — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Emmy Bridgwater, Untitled, c. 1940s, gouache on paper, 11 ¾ x 8 ¼ in. (29.8 x 21 cm), © The Mayor Gallery, London

Emmy Bridgwater — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Emmy Bridgwater, The Foundations of Behaviour, c. 1940, pen and ink on paper, 6 x 9 in. (15.2 x 23 cm), © The Mayor Gallery, London

Emmy Bridgwater — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Emmy Bridgwater, Untitled, c. 1940s, gouache on paper, 11 3/4 x 8 1/4 in. (29.8 x 21 cm), © The Mayor Gallery, London

Emmy Bridgwater — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Emmy Bridgwater, Untitled, c. 1942, watercolour, 9 ½ x 12 1/8 in. (24 x 30.8 cm), © The Mayor Gallery, London

Emmy Bridgwater — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Emmy Bridgwater, Untitled, 12 June 1942, ink on paper, 8 1/8 x 5 1/8 in. (20.5 x 12.9 cm), © The Mayor Gallery, London

Emmy Bridgwater — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Emmy Bridgwater, Untitled, c. 1942, watercolour, 9 ½ x 12 1/8 in. (24 x 30.8 cm), © The Mayor Gallery, London

Emmy Bridgwater — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Emmy Bridgwater, Pebble View, 1944, collage, 11 ¾ x 17 ¾ in. (30 x 45 cm), © The Mayor Gallery, London

Emmy Bridgwater — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Emmy Bridgwater, Foot Prints, c.1945, oil on board, 21 x 14 in. (53.3 x 35.6 cm), © The Mayor Gallery, London

Emmy Bridgwater — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Emmy Bridgwater, The Land of Birds, c. 1950s, collage, 13 x 29 in. (33 x 73.7 cm), © The Mayor Gallery, London

Emmy Bridgwater — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Emmy Bridgwater, Untitled, c. 1955, ink on paper, 8 3/8 x 11 ¾ in. (21.3 x 29.8 cm), © The Mayor Gallery, London

Emmy Bridgwater — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Emmy Bridgwater, The Debutante, 1955, Ink on paper, 9 1/8 x 8 in. (23.2 x 20.2 cm), © The Mayor Gallery, London

Emmy Bridgwater — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Emmy Bridgwater, Echoes, c. 1958, oil on board, 23 7/8 x 16 1/8 in. (60.7 x 41 cm), © The Mayor Gallery, London

Emmy Bridgwater — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Emmy Bridgwater, Garden of Pleasure, c. 1970s, collage and blue ink, 17 7/8 x 17 7/8 in. (45.5 x 45.5 cm), © The Mayor Gallery, London

Emmy Bridgwater — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Emmy Bridgwater, Encounter, c. 1970s, collage, 20 1/8 x 15 5/8 in. (51 x 39.7 cm), © The Mayor Gallery, London

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