Jack Pickup

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Jack Pickup
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Waterfoot, Lancashire
CitizenshipUnited Kingdom
  • Painter
  • Teacher
  • Sculptor
Known forPainting, sculpture
Notable work
Mural, Plymouth Unitarian Church

Jack Pickup ATD, DA (1909–1979) was a painter, teacher and sculptor, spending the majority of his adult life in Plymouth, Devon, England. He was particularly interested in the working life of the Plymouth Barbican with its boats and fishermen, where he had his studio and which was also near to Plymouth art college where he taught. A significant body of his work is held at The Box, Plymouth Museums and Galleries,[1] whilst a substantial mural funded by the War Damages Commission can still be seen at Plymouth Unitarian Church.

Early life, training and career

Pickup was born and grew up in the small Rossendale mill town of Waterfoot, Lancashire|Waterfoot in Lancashire, England where he attended Bacup and Rawtenstall Grammer School. The only child of Harry and Louisa Pickup who owned a butcher's shop in the town, his parents wanted him to become a surveyor when he left school, but after a short time at the borough’s surveyor’s office, he was allowed to follow his passion and study art at Manchester School of Art (1927–1932). Whilst there, he gained a number of awards including the Royal Manchester Institution’s Silver Medal and the Proctor Memorial Travelling Scholarship, the the highest prize awarded by the School of Art (also awarded to other notable students including Sylvia Pankhurst)[2] which enabled him to travel to France.

On completing his studies, Pickup remained at the Art School, teaching drawing and stained glass design part-time, supplementing his income with teaching at a Manchester grammar school. He delivered art appreciation lectures at the Worker’s Educational Institute (WEA) between 1932–1934, as well as working as an artist.

Pickup married Marian Taylor (Marie) in January 1938 which necessitated finding a full-time permanent post and although he would have preferred to work in an art college, Jack applied and was awarded the position as the first art teacher at Devonport High School for Boys, Plymouth, Devon. He also taught evening classes at Plymouth School of Art. Arriving in Plymouth, he was struck by the quality of the light, so important for a painter, and was inspired by the architecture of the city, particularly the Barbican.

Wartime experience (1939–1945)

With the onset of the World War II|Second World War on 3 September 1939, Pickup joined the Voluntary Fire Service, fire-fighting during the heavy bombing raids on Plymouth when much of the city was destroyed. It was this ruination which Pickup was to depict in a series of paintings on his return home to the city after the war. The school was evacuated to Penzance in 1941[3] Pickup going as assistant House master, and later volunteering, and joining the Royal Air Force, where he was trained as a radio engineer. He worked in the UK before being sent to Australia in early 1943 as part of the war effort in the Far East. Whilst there he made contact with a group of Brisbane artists and drawings of his fellow servicemen as well as a watercolour made during this time remain in the family archive.

Career: artist and teacher

After the War, Pickup continued to teach at Devonport High School for Boys until moving to take up a full time post at Plymouth College of Art in 1947, becoming Head of the pre-diploma department and remaining there until retirement. He took part in numerous exhibitions including being invited to submit to an Arts Council Exhibition in 1947,[4] as well as developing a strong relationship with Plymouth City Art Gallery where a collection of his work can be seen today. With his colleague, friend and fellow artist William Mann. Jack joined the Plymouth Society of Artists (PSA) with whom he exhibited and for whom he was elected Chairman, 1958 - 1960. He also a exhibited with a group of artists called The Barbican Group with whom he exhibited.

Pickup had two studios on the Plymouth Barbican where his department at the art college was also located.The first was in South Side Street with windows looking onto the street and with access to the roof. His later, second studio was in a building looking out onto the Mayflower Steps. Views from both feature in a number of his paintings.[5] This location was to be important to his later work as a ceramic artist too, for he began making ceramics with another colleague and friend, Anthony Hermon, who had an antique shop nearby. Pickup made watercolours 'en plein air', of the Barbican and Plymouth's surrounding areas, such as Cremyll and Shaugh Bridge, accompanied occasionally by members of his family. He made many drawings in this manner in his sketch books which he developed into paintings, as well as drawings of his family, and natural objects. In later life, he used his sketchbooks for preparatory drawings for his ceramics.

Paintings, ceramics and murals

File:Bomb_damaged_buildings,,_Plymouth_by_Jack_Pickup.jpg|thumb|Jack Pickup, Bomb Damaged Buildings, Plymouth Some of the most notable of Pickup’s works made in the first years after the war were the paintings he produced of bomb-damaged Plymouth which depict the ruination that was all around him: church, factory, home and the debris of destruction.[6] Unlike photographs of post-war Plymouth before reconstruction began which show life continuing in the damaged city, many of these paintings are devoid of human life, although the painting of the remains of St. George’s Church, East Stonehouse, at the junction of Chapel Street with Emma Place, is humanised by the people passing, sitting on a damaged wall and a child peering round a doorway. Rather than belie the devastation, the soft colours of his palette emphasise the stark reality of the results of aerial bombardment. In later paintings the bomb damage was not necessarily the focus of these works, it was simply part of everyday landscape.[7]

Pickup was awarded a major commission to design and paint a mural for the new Plymouth Unitarian Church, funded by the War Damage Commission, as the previous Unitarian Church, in Treville Street, had been destroyed by bombing in March 1941.[8][9] Curator Tessa Hall described the mural as 'a 3 x 5.5 metres, floor-to-ceiling oil painting on canvas, framed and attached to the wall at the northern end of the church space.' (Hall, Tessa (2018). Inspired by the biblical story of the storm on the sea of Galilee, it symbolises community, leadership, survival against the odds and hope for the future. Hall writes that 'Jack Pickup's interest in the Barbican and the fishing community is...evident in the mural'.Jack Pickup's Mural for Plymouth Unitarian Church. Plymouth Unitarian Church. pp.1 and 42). The mural was completed in 1959 and can still be admired in the church today. Pickup's son Roger was the model for the hands of the rowers and also posed for the main figure. Pickup was involved with two other murals for the city: a mural the college students made for the old restaurant/cafe on Plymouth Hoe, now long gone and a mural in the Art Gallery, also no longer in existence. File:Mural_for_Plymouth_Unitarian_Church_by_Jack_Pickup.jpg|thumb|Mural for Plymouth Unitarian Church by Jack Pickup funded by the War Damage Commission In 1956, The Plymouth City Art Gallery curated a significant exhibition of Pickup’s work entitled Paintings of Plymouth.[10] Many of the paintings depict aspects of The Barbican and its working life as a port and fish market before the 1950s rebuilding when the urban landscape of this historic area changed significantly. He enjoyed juxtaposing the forms of the buildings rather than investigating their architectural qualities. Boats in the harbour were also a favourite subject as was capturing the soft grey of the Plymouth limestone. Pickup’s visits to Paris as young man, his trips to London exhibitions and his lecture notes demonstrate a considerable knowledge and personal interest in art history both of which situate his work in an academic as well as a creative and disciplinary context.

The earliest evidence of Pickup’s ceramic work is the PSA exhibition catalogue of 1969, showing bird forms, although he was probably making the sculptures of fish and birds from 1963 onwards, using oxides, slips and matt glazes on stoneware clay. One of his ceramics was developed as the bronze sculpture Bird Form[11] now in the The Box, Plymouth Museums Galleries. The fish were probably inspired by the catches he would have seen being offloaded from the fishing boats at The Barbican as well as in the Plymouth Aquarium. The Arts Council organised a touring exhibition of Pickup's sculptures in 1975.

Pickup's work can now be seen at Plymouth Museums Galleries and at Plymouth Unitarian Church.


  • Tessa Hall, Jack Pickup's Mural for Plymouth Unitarian Church, 2018
  • M. Pickup, printed by Bell and Bain Glasgow
  • Paintings of Plymouth by Jack Pickup, Plymouth City Art Gallery, 1956


  1. "Pickup, Jack, 1909–1979 | Art UK". artuk.org. Retrieved 2021-03-23.
  2. "Art and Conflict: Sylvia Pankhurst: Suffragette, Socialist and Scourge of Empire". Counterfire. Retrieved 2021-03-23.
  3. Devonport High School for Boys. <corpname>Devonport High School for Boys, Devon, 1896-</corpname>.CS1 maint: others (link)
  4. Letter from Alex Cumming, curator, Plymouth City Art Gallery, 1930s – 1976, Plymouth City Art Gallery
  5. "Fishing Boat at Harbour | Art UK". artuk.org. Retrieved 2021-03-23.
  6. "Jack Pickup Exhibition". 2020-05-21. Retrieved 2021-03-23.
  7. "Jack Pickup Exhibition". 2020-05-21. Retrieved 2021-03-23.
  8. "Jack Pickup Exhibition". 2020-05-21. Retrieved 2021-03-23.
  9. "Plymouth Unitarian Church: History Festival". ukunitarians.org.uk. Retrieved 2021-03-23.
  10. "Jack Pickup Exhibition". 2020-05-21. Retrieved 2021-03-23.
  11. "Pickup, Jack, 1909–1979 | Art UK". artuk.org. Retrieved 2021-03-23.

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