Jack Pickup Exhibition

Plymouth Unitarian Church

Plymouth Unitarian Church | Notte Street | Plymouth PL1 2HG | 01752 290091
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The doors of the Unitarian Church in Notte Street were officially opened in May 1958. The congregation had been meeting in temporary premises for the previous seventeen years because the Unitarian Chapel in Treville Street had been destroyed in the WW2 blitz on Plymouth in March 1941. During that seventeen years, there were lengthy communications with The War Damage Commission to secure funding to build a new church and to cover the cost of a mural, which had been suggested by the architects, Messrs. Louis de Soissons, instead of stained glass windows.

The local artist Jack Pickup was chosen to paint the mural. Jack Pickup was at this time a lecturer at Plymouth Art College and he had recently had a solo exhibition of oil paintings at the City Art Gallery (now The Box). It is not surprising that a sea theme was chosen for the mural as Jack Pickup had a studio in Southside Street on the Barbican, near to the old fish market, and he had spent many hours painting scenes around Plymouth’s waterfront. The painting was inspired by the biblical story of the storm on the Sea of Galilee, but Jack Pickup, who was not religious, has used symbolism in the mural that could be interpreted in both a religious and non-religious way. The mural was completed in the spring of 1959.

This Virtual Exhibition for the 2020 Plymouth History Festival contains images of the church mural, Jack Pickup’s paintings of bomb damaged buildings, and paintings of scenes in and around Plymouth.

Plymouth Unitarian Church is a warm-hearted and open-minded spiritual community that celebrates diversity and draws on wisdom from a range of traditions and sources. To find out more do visit our website.

Virtual exhibition pages:

1. The Mural
2. Paintings of Plymouth’s Waterfront
3. Paintings of Plymouth and the Surrounding Area

To navigate between the pages use the numbers at the bottom of each page.

The Mural

Jack Pickup painted the mural for Plymouth Unitarian Church in 1959. It was financed through funds from the War Damage Commission. The previous Unitarian Church, in Treville Street, had been destroyed during the heavy bombing of WW2 in March 1941.

The small boat in a stormy sea, with a crew of ten men, symbolises a period of turbulence and uncertainty, when skill, team work, and ‘pulling together’ are required. Fear, compassion, determination and hope are all components of this human drama.

Strong, inspirational leadership, as well as a vision of a better future are sustaining the group of travellers in this painting, as they are approaching the end of their turbulent journey.

Images © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Jamie Parr Photography

THE INFLUENCE OF WORLD WAR II

The mural was almost certainly inspired by the chaos and tumult that Jack Pickup witnessed during WW2. He served with the Voluntary Fire Service during the heavy air raids on Plymouth in 1940-41. In late 1941 he joined the Royal Air Force, serving initially in the United Kingdom, and later in Australia. After he returned to Plymouth at the end of the war several of his paintings were studies of bomb damaged buildings. By the time the mural was painted, a new city centre was emerging from the dust and debris and order was replacing instability.

Emma Place – Two bombs were dropped on St George’s Church, East Stonehouse, at the junction of Chapel Street with Emma Place. In Jack Pickup’s painting, new plant life is springing up around the ruins of the church and children are playing among the damaged walls and doorways. Life is returning to normal. Adults are taking toddlers and young children for a walk, with the tall damaged tower of the church looming in the background. (The part of Plymouth depicted in this painting has now been redeveloped.)

Images of paintings © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: artist’s family

THE INFLUENCE OF HISTORIC JOURNEYS

Pickup was very interested in the history of the Barbican so it is possible that the mural was also inspired by the historic journeys that are commemorated by plaques and the Mayflower memorial steps on West Pier. During these journeys, both literal and metaphorical storms were endured by the travellers. The artist painted many views of the Mayflower Steps and memorial arch and many of them were sold.

The footbridge, lock, aquarium and new fish market had not been built in the 1950s, so the view from West Pier, where the Mayflower Steps are situated, was very different to the view today. A coal wharf was on the site of the current fish market. Teat’s Hill and East Quay, were mostly covered in grass, before the Aquarium was built, although a more industrial site was visible in the distance.

Part of the coal wharf can be seen in the painting West Pier. The Mayflower steps can be seen on the other side of the water in View from Coxside, Big Rock

In People on a Quay, a painting owned by Plymouth City Council, it is possible to see a woman studying the information on a plaque by the Mayflower Steps.

The poster for Jack Pickup’s 1956 exhibition at the city gallery uses a motif based on the Mayflower Steps.

Further notes

The subject of the mural is also a reinterpretation of the biblical story ‘The Storm on the Sea of Galilee’. However Jack Pickup once wrote in his notes that a mural should ‘be imaginatively free to move both spatially and in time’. Therefore the metaphors in the mural are not limited to any particular events but could be relevant to many situations where there is hope of a better future after a long period of struggle and insecurity

Images of paintings © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: artist’s family
Image of poster © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Tessa hall

Click on the page numbers below to scroll to the next collection

13 thoughts on “Jack Pickup Exhibition

  1. I love these paintings. It’s wonderful to see familiar places in the light and colours of the fifties.

  2. Wonderful mural and paintings. Powerful and yet sensitive, full of feeling yet restrained. His visionary spirit and compassion are completely present in the work. I love it. He is a great artist and I hope to see the originals when I next visit Plymouth.
    Thanks for this enlightening exhibition.

    1. Hello Beverley. So glad you enjoyed the exhibition. Do let us know when you’re next in Plymouth so we can show your the mural. Of course, the building is closed at the moment, but as soon as we’re open again we’d love to see you.

  3. Wonderful paintings. I am proud to be a cousin of Jack living in NZ at the moment ‘and last saw him in 1950. He did some great paintings of Plymouth and its environs. The colours so fresh and the paintings so crisp. It was wonderful seeing so many of them on the internet. It is also interesting seeing the pictures of Plymouth foreshore at that period after the war.

    Thankyou to his family for making it so easy for me to look at them.

    Maureen “née Pickup” McMillan

    1. Thank you for your comment Maureen. Jack Pickup certainly created an impressive and unique collection of paintings. (I helped Jack Pickup’s family organise this virtual exhibition of his work.) Tessa Hall

  4. This a wonderful exhibition of Jack Pickup’s work. His mural of Christ Calming the Storm, hangs in our Unitarian Church in Notte Street; I recognise the detail, the arms pulling on the oars, at the top of this virtual exhibition. Tessa Hall gave an interesting talk about that and some of his other paintings in History week a few years back. This ‘virtual’ exhibition shows many more of his works. They are very atmospheric, giving a real sense of being in Plymouth a generation ago. Having moved to Plymouth in the early 1970’s, I can recognise some places, while others have changed so much! Through these paintings seeing places and people as they were, going about their daily business, which must have been so much harder in those post war years, when people were rebuilding their lives. I have ‘shared’ this with my brother and my sister-in-law, also an artist, living in Southampton, another coastal city which was much damaged by bombing and has been rebuilt.

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