St James’s Palace, London, 1939
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Overall: 42cm (16.5in) x 58cm (23in)
Watercolour on paper heightened with body colour. Street scene view of the north gatehouse, St.James’s Palace, with the large window to the right of the Chapel Royal, at the junction of Pall Mall and at James’s Street on the eve of the Second World War. Signed lower right ‘Reginald Mills’.
Mills’s depiction of this London landmark captures the zeitgeist of the pre-war St. James’s with the inclusion of stylishly dressed civilians and a naval officer amidst motor traffic that contrasts with the Edwardian whitened Slade-Wallace equipment still worn for ceremonial duties by the Brigade of Guards until 1940.
Reginald Mills, FRSA (1895-1950) was born in Hampstead, and enlisted in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps in August 1914 while studying at South London Technical College of Art, but was discharged shortly afterwards as medically unfit. He produced portraits, landscapes and genre paintings, and in 1930 he was elected a member of the Royal Society of British Artists. He exhibited widely, notably at the Royal Academy and the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours. He illustrated children’s books and worked for the Religious Tract Society. In 1930 he began an eight-year association with the Oxford University Press, illustrating boy’s school stories. He also worked for the advertising agency James Haworth & Co., producing posters for the Cunard White Star Line. He became best-known for his work during the Second World War, when he joined the Auxiliary Fire Service, and became one of a large group of fireman artists, recording the London Blitz in a series of paintings produced in his spare time. His pictures were widely exhibited, with several now held in national collections, including at the Imperial War Museum, and many of them appeared in two books: London’s Hour, As Seen Through the Eyes of the Firefighters (1942) and In the Service of the Nation: The N.F.S. Goes into Action (1944). He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 1948.