Curator's Choice: Jane Sellars on Sonia Lawson's Paintings, Passions and Alarms at the Mercer Art Gallery

By Ben Miller | 30 October 2015

Jane Sellars, of the Mercer Art Gallery in Harrogate, on the inspirations of Royal Academician Sonia Lawson

A photo of artist Sonia Lawson standing between two of her colourful portrait paintings
Sonia Lawson, Portrait of my Mother, Muriel Metcalfe (1981). Oil on canvas© Sonia Lawson
“In terms of picking out certain pieces, that would be like asking a parent to pick a favourite child. Thinking about this retrospective, I find it engaging, disturbing, worrying and entertaining.

I particularly love the paintings that Sonia was inspired to create by a visit she made to the Brontë Parsonage museum in 1981 with her mother, Muriel, and daughter, Zoe.

A black and white photo of female artist Sonia Lawson in a Royal College of Art studio
Lawson at the Royal College of Art in 1958© Sonia Lawson
Sonia had, of course, been to the Haworth before in her childhood, but here she is in her 50s being bowled over by the Brontës and filling huge canvass with these extraordinary figures emerging from the darkness. Moorland Benediction is about dreaming, night time vigils, and writing, reading and praying in the dark.

Sonia’s mother, the artist Muriel Metcalfe, had a habit of reading, writing and drawing at night time, just as the Brontë sisters were reputed to have done, getting the most creativity that they could squeeze  out of their  day.

A photo of artist Sonia Lawson standing between two of her colourful portrait paintings
The artist stands between two of her works at the Carlow Arts Festival© Sonia Lawson
In Portrait of my Mother, Muriel is ensconced in a luxurious bed, completely absorbed in her work. There is a sense in her work that Sonia, like her mother, fought constantly to find that quiet time of concentration.

The exhibition charts the essential relationship between Lawson’s work and her life experience, from the 1950s to the present.

A photo of a colourful artwork by the artist Sonia Lawson
Homage to Emily Bronte: Night Writing (1981). Oil on Canvas© Sonia Lawson
Her passion for painting coincided with maternal love, literary sensibilities and a powerful sense of political justice.

She explored various media, but it is her large-scale oils on canvas, the big subject pieces, that soar with her powers as a painter.”

  • Sonia Lawson RA: Paintings, Passions and Alarms is at the Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate from November 14 2015 – February 7 2016.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A photo of a colourful square red artwork by the artist Sonia Lawson
Portal to Shangri La (2011). Oil on canvas© Sonia Lawson
A photo of a colourful artwork by the artist Sonia Lawson
Teatime at Haworth with the Brontes (1981-1982). Oil on canvas© Sonia Lawson
A photo of a colourful artwork by the artist Sonia Lawson
Angel Reader (1990s). Ink and watercolour on paper. From the Night Writing series© Sonia Lawson
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What a wonderful collection of such beautiful and splendid paintings. I have followed her work for many years and they grow more fascinating as the years go by !
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