John Bratby R.A.
(London 1928- Hastings 1992)
Guy the Gorilla

CATEGORY: English Schools
MEDIUM: Signed ‘John Bratby’ in black pencil centre, black pencil on paper
SIZE: 252 x 356 mm. (9¾ x 14 in.)
PROVENANCE: With Julian Hartnoll, London; Private collection, UK.

Condition: The pencil and paper are in an excellent condition. The drawing is on paper torn from a sketchbook, as is clear from the perforated left margin. There are residue brown strips of mounting paper on the margins of the verso.

Bratby worked as a painter, writer and teacher. He studies at the Kingston College of Art (1948-50) and later at the Royal College of Art (1951-4), where he was awarded a bursary to travel in Italy. However he was not very stimulated by the art he saw there and subsequently preferred not to travel. His taste for domestic life in England is reflected in his works. He worked in a harsh realist style applying paint thickly in vibrant colours and portraying sometimes ugly and desperate faces.

It was Bratby’s concern with social realism that brought him into contact with Jack Smith and Edward Middleditch and Derrick Greaves, and these artists became the main exponents of critics dubbed the ‘the Kitchen Sink School’ however these artists (also some known as the Beaux Arts Quartet) shared a desire to depict the banality of working class domestic environment. Bratby taught at the Carlisle College of Art (1956) and then the Royal College of Art, London (1957-8). Bratby was also a successful novelist.

Our drawing is typical of Bratby’s style and penetrating ability to analyse faces is applied to this portrait of ‘Guy the Gorilla’. In 2008 Crispian Riley-Smith sold a similar work to a UK private collector.

Guy the Gorilla (1946-1978) was one of London Zoo’s most popular residents. Named after Guy Fawkes- he was exchanged from Paris zoo with a tiger on Bonfire Night in 1947, the lowland gorilla attracted 3 million visitors a year by the late 1950s. Such was his fame that the cricketer Ian Botham, England’s tall and brawny all-rounder was nicknamed ‘Guy the Gorilla’.

Despite his morose and intimidating appearance, Guy had a gentle disposition and was observed on occasion carefully examining small birds that flew into his cage before letting them go.


Other Artworks By John Bratby R.A.