top of page

Phyllis Parker 

(Letchworth, Hertfordshire 1910-1991 Hampstead, London) 

View from no. 57 Myddleton Square, London, c.1930s  

oil on board 

25 x 30 cm. 

in a period frame


By descent within the family of the artist

Phyllis Parker was the sister of East London Group artist, Brynhild Parker. She was the middle of three, separated by three year gaps. They grew up in an artistic community - their father was the artist-carpenter Stanley Parker, (who had studied at Manchester School of Art with his lifelong friend, the artist William Ratcliffe). Stanley was the craft teacher at St. Christopher’s School, in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, where the family lived at 102 Wilbury Road, a villa designed by Stanley’s brother, the architect, Barry Parker. Letchworth itself was the Utopian vision of a new town in the countryside less than 40 miles outside London, by Victorian social reformer Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928). Contemporary residents included the artists Harold Gilman and Spencer Gore, as well as the Parkers, with whom Ratcliffe lodged. Parker’s Swedish mother Signe played the piano, and theirs was a house filled with art and music. 

While Bryn studied at the Slade School of Art, Phyllis studied at the London Central School of Arts and Crafts, and their youngest sister Lisa studied at the Royal College of Art, focusing on design and textiles. Lisa, however, suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and was unable to pursue her art in the same way. All three girls had prodigious talent, though proverbial forks in the road took them in different directions.

Phyllis chose to focus on sculpture, studying under Barbara Hepworth’s first husband, John Skeaping (1901-1980). An article in ‘Weekly Illustrated’ magazine from 19 January, 1935, with a feature on the Central School, illustrated a photograph of Phyllis carving a bird sculpture out of wood, captioned ‘A Young Wood-sculptor at Work with Hammer and Chisel’ and the comment that ‘wood is one of the most difficult materials for the young sculptor, but it is one with which very beautiful results can be obtained. When the carving is finished it is polished and often oiled to give a surface.’ 

In 1936, fresh out of art school, Phyllis had a joint show at the Bloomsbury Gallery with the young abstract artist Roger Hilton (1911-1975). She exhibited 21 sculptures and 16 drawings to Hilton’s 18 paintings. Astonishingly, this exhibition has gone down in the annals of history as being Roger Hilton’s first solo show! At the time, Anthony Blunt (a school friend of Roger’s brother John, from their Winchester days), wrote a review of the exhibition, praising Roger Hilton, but completely omitting any mention of Phyllis, even though she had the majority of works on display. This gender-biased appraisal proved sadly prophetic. 

The sculptures Phyllis included in the exhibition were variously made from lime wood, coral wood, rose wood, Portland stone, alabaster, Ancaster stone and verde-de-Prato marble, showing her facility and range. The subjects she portrayed were animals including antelopes, gazelles, goats, weasels, ferrets and birds among others - the sure influence of Skeaping. Her drawings from this period also share a pared down simplicity of form and purity of line that is sculptural in spirit, and indeed even her topographical paintings show that Phyllis viewed the world as a series of shapes. 

At this time she was living in Bryn’s flat at 57 Myddleton Square, in Clerkenwell, but in 1939 moved back home to Letchworth to be with her family in order to have a child. This marked a sea-change, for in single motherhood Phyllis was no longer able to easily pursue her career. By the 1950s she was living in Hampstead at Willow Road, with her younger sister Lisa, while Brynhild had moved to France to continue her artistic journey, increasingly abandoning figurative painting for abstraction. In the 1970s, Phyllis exhibited some views of Hampstead in a group show in Highgate, but otherwise she and Lisa lived a quiet life, sketching, painting experimenting with ceramics, making art for their own pleasure, as they always had. 

bottom of page