Betty Rea's archive gives a fascinating glimpse into both her artistic practice and the social and political world which she inhabited.
Private view invitation (1960) Courtesy of the Estate of Betty Rea and Leeds Museums and Galleries (Henry Moore Institute Archive). Photo: David Cotton Photo of 'Mother and Child' (1936) Courtesy of the Estate of Betty Rea and Leeds Museums and Galleries (Henry Moore Institute Archive). Photo: David Cotton Letter regarding the Huntingdon Anglo-Soviet Friendship Committee (1943) Courtesy of the Estate of Betty Rea and Leeds Museums and Galleries (Henry Moore Institute Archive). Photo: David Cotton
Private view invitation (1960)
Photo of 'Mother and Child' (1936)
Letter regarding the Huntingdon Anglo-Soviet Friendship Committee (1943)
Betty Rea (1904-1965) swam against the tide, favouring realist sculpture in a period when abstract modernism held sway. Her sculptures tenderly celebrated quotidian life, whether teenage girls rocking with laughter or a woman scrubbing the floor.
Rea studied sculpture at the Royal College of Art where Henry Moore was a student teacher - the two sculptors became great friends. In April 1926 she married a law student called James Russell Rea (1902-1954). Their short-lived marriage produced two sons. Rea and her children later lived with her long-term companion the painter Nancy (Nan) Youngman (1906-1995).
By the late 1930s Rea had become a passionately committed Socialist and anti-Fascist and she was greatly involved in cultural events promoting these causes. Rea was a founder member of Artists' International Association and also the Chair of the Arts Peace Campaign. In 1937 she worked upon a mural in Unofficial Peace Pavilion at Paris World Fair.
The archive covers both the personal and professional sides of Rea's life. A series of correspondence and papers document the organisation of various exhibitions Rea took part in, as well papers relating to the Huntington Anglo-Soviet Committee from the 1940s, and personal letters to Rea's companion Nan Youngman sent after Rea's death.
An album of photographs and over 200 loose photos record Rea and her sculpture. There are over forty exhibition catalogues and private view cards from between 1932-1992. Among these are the items associated with the Looking at People exhibitions, which took place between 1955 and 1957 (including the catalogue and exhibition poster for when it travelled to the Pushkin Museum in the Soviet Union in 1957).
One of Rea's sketchbook is also held in the archive, mainly with drawings of figures, some of which are related to her sculpture. Finally, there are over 100 press cuttings, mainly relating to exhibitions; seven articles about Rea, 1934-1991; and an undated list of her sculptures compiled by the artist.
For more on Betty Rea's work see issue 39 of our Essays in Sculpture Series, A fine Tomorrow: Sculpture and Socialism in mid-century Britain, which offers a delightful insight into the practice and politics of Betty Rea.