Museum hosts display of Dudley-born film director's unseen artwork

Councillor Tracy Wood, Dudley’s cabinet member for environment and culture, with the exhibits.

Councillor Tracy Wood, Dudley’s cabinet member for environment and culture, with the exhibits.

First published in Local

PREVIOUSLY unseen artwork by Dudley-born film director, James Whale can be seen at Dudley Museum and Art Gallery.

The exhibition, Horror in Hollywood: the James Whale story, includes images from a selection of more than 70 unseen pieces of work ranging from Whale’s time in the Holzminden internment camp during WWI through to paintings he undertook in his retirement in California.

The cartoons, paintings and illustrations have been loaned to the St James’s Road museum by Whale’s great-great niece, animator Cath Lloyd.

She said: “We wanted other people to be able to see this work and thought that James’ connection with Dudley was worth pursuing. I looked into the museum and its reputation and thought this was the best place for their first-ever display.

“I saw a lot of his films at college and thought they were just brilliant, beautifully styled and often quite funny. He made a huge impact on cinema and his influence can still be seen today.

“We are all extremely proud of his work as a director and the bravery and confidence he showed, living as an openly gay man.

“I hope this exhibition will be of interest to Whale fans and scholars but equally important to the people of Dudley who always held a place in James’ heart.”

Whale went from humble beginnings in Park Hill Street, Buffery Park, to become one of cinema’s most influential directors.

One of six children born to a blast furnaceman and a nurse, he attended Kate’s Hill Board School, Bayliss Charity School and Dudley Blue Coat School.

His brothers worked in heavy industry, but James wasn’t strong enough so worked as a cobbler’s apprentice.

While working he reclaimed used nails and sold them as a scrap, using the proceeds from this and a small income from sign writing, he put himself through evening classes at Dudley School of Arts and Crafts, intending to pursue a career as an artist and illustrator before events took a different turn.

Although famed as a director, he began his career as an artist, actor and stage manager before making the transition to directing, first in theatre and then on the silver screen.

His knowledge of art and an understanding of acting allowed him to create dramatic, witty and inventive films - which to some were also quaintly camp.

Whale is best remembered for his work in the horror genre, in particular Frankenstein and his recognised masterpiece, The Bride of Frankenstein, both of which were influenced by German expressionist art.

The paintings, which include a self-portrait of a white haired Whale make up a smaller part of the exhibition.

The bulk of the pieces, many of which were kept in two suitcases in the attic at Cath Lloyds’ grandmother’s house, are from Whale’s sketch books, featuring pencil cartoons and witty captions.

Perhaps the most exciting pieces are his internment camp pictures.

Whale enlisted in 1914 and was immediately identified as officer material and commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Worcestershire Regiment in July 1916.

He was taken as a prisoner of war in August 1917 and housed at the Holzminden prison camp for two years.

During his time there he participated in theatrical productions and discovered a talent for directing.

Many of the pieces in the exhibition were made during this time and include wry pictures of sports, waiting for the post, visits to the doctors and the staging of an am-dram performance - arguably the starting point for his own directing career.

There are 25 images from a sketch book which can be viewed on a screen, allowing curators to keep the book complete and not break it up.

Most of the pieces are untitled and there is little background on them, allowing viewers to place their own interpretation on the pictures, just as film-fans have created their own interpretations of Whale’s varied works.

Councillor Tracy Wood, Dudley’s cabinet member for environment and culture, said: “We are so excited and honoured that the family have chosen Dudley Museum & Art Gallery as the most suitable place to show these pictures for the first time.

“We are very proud of James Whale and as a council have already recognised his contribution to the film industry through the installation of the film reel sculpture at Castle Gate some time ago.

“This exhibition will appeal to local people, film-fans and Whale scholars alike.”

The exhibition runs until Saturday January 12 2013.

Dudley Museum is open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 4pm. Admission is free.

For more information visit www.dudley.gov.uk/museums or call 01384 815575.

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