Born in 1919, Lionel Bulmer was the third and youngest child of an architect. From the start he was taught to look. At 17 he went to Clapham art school, where he spent two happy years before conscription into the army on the outbreak of world war two. Even that block to so many careers was not wholly wasted for this fledgling artist, who still drew and painted in free time. On being demobbed he returned full-time to his artistic calling, and was accepted by a Royal College of Art still dislodged to Ambleside in the Lake District.
This was a ravishing revelation. And here he found his lasting place – beside another person. This was Margaret Green. Her looks, talent, bearing and velvet voice wrought havoc among classmates already smitten by an escape from war into that Wordsworthian setting. “She was the full femme fatale,” one was to recall six decades later. But from their first meeting Margaret and Lionel had the mutual attraction of two magnets. Soon they were inseparable and, working side by side on sketching trips and on paintings back in the college studio, they set the pattern of shared contentment that would last until the male partner’s death in 1992.
To their progressively rather distanced friends they were known as Margaretandlionel. In their professional promise and personal partnership they had their armour against the world when the Royal College returned to Exhibition Road in a down-at-heel and shell-shocked Kensington. Tuition by the likes of Ruskin Spear, Carel Weight and Charles Mahoney was enlightening, as was the freedom to wander in the nearby Victoria & Albert Museum.
They set to work in Chelsea, though one of Margaret’s many student prizes, a £160 travelling scholarship, funded almost a year of frugal travel through France and Ireland. To support their painting, the partners accepted part-time teaching posts in art schools – Lionel at Kingston and Margaret first at Walthamstow and then at the Royal Academy Schools.
Fanning out in an arc from London, and covering countless miles in a trusty van which doubled as their travelling studio, they finally found their Eden in West Suffolk – a wreck of a house in a wilderness which, in the late 1950s, cost all of £850. Carving out a rather noble building dating from the Middle Ages, and fastidious with furnishings, they then bulldozed the jungle to plant a French-style paradise of flower, fruit and vegetable beds – which took them a long way towards self-sufficiency and which neither ever tired of painting.
They adored the beach at Aldeburgh, with the two lookout towers and the tram-like tracks for hauling fishing boats up and down the shingle. But on discovering Walberswick and Southwold they were hooked, with the resulting flood of canvases suggesting that the two figures were fixtures on the beach and beside the harbour over every high summer between 1960 and 1990.
The Lionel Bulmer and Margaret Green Studio Estate is represented by Messum’s.