Macclesfield has been home to many artists over the years, in part due to its proximity to the peak district and the range of subject matter this offers.
However, thus far, despite the recent emergence of Ben Kelly and Helen Clapcott, it has only had one artist with an international reputation. The artist in question was Charles Fredrick Tunnicliffe; an artist born in Langley in 1901 who was to become arguably the greatest painter of British wildlife in our island’s history.
And now some the artist’s most important work has arrived on the market thanks to the tireless efforts of an art dealer from Lymm.
Martin Heaps of Collect Art has spent years amassing the various woodblock and copper etchings plates that have come up at various auctions. Although art dealers are not renowned for philanthropy, chasing down the pieces was down to a determination to keep them together for posterity, rather than to make a profit.
The pieces themselves are not the etchings, but the original blocks from which the etchings were produced. Artists usually destroy these blocks to protect the limited edition nature of the etchings themselves, but for some reason these have survived. These are the most important Macclesfield art works to become available in a generation.
Heaps now wants to sell, but at roughly the price he bought, around £15,000, and would like to sell to a local museum. “These really are museum standard and it would be a massive shame to break up the collection. I’ve had lots of offers for single items, but so far I’ve resisted.” he says.
Though born in Langley, Tunnicliffe spent his early years living on a farm in Sutton. As a young boy he attended Sutton St. James’ C.E. Primary School, studied at the then Macclesfield Art College before winning a scholarship at the Royal College of Art in London where his teachers included Frank Short.
In 1947 he moved to a house called “Shorelands” at Malltraeth, on the estuary of the Afon Cefni on Anglesey, where he lived until his death in 1979.
He was a great artist, but an even greater engraver and he struck fame with his wood and copper engravings for Henry Williamson’s Tarka the Otter in 1932, some of the blocks used for that book are part of the Heaps collection.
At his death, much of his personal collection of work was bequeathed to Anglesey council on the condition that it was housed together and made available for public viewing. This body of work can now be seen at Oriel Ynys Môn (The Anglesey Gallery) near Llangefni.
The Heaps collection is almost as important as that in Anglesey and the dealer plans to approach Cheshire museums to gauge interest. He accepts that public art galleries are now hugely constrained by spending cuts, but believes, rightly, that the collection represents a unique opportunity for Macclesfield to own an important body of work from one of its most famous sons.