Harley Brothers

Harley Brothers was a commercial lithographers in Edinburgh. During the late 1950’s they undertook a series of artists collaborations that lasted until the early 1960’s. A variety of artists at that time, both well known and emerging, worked alongside them to produce nearly 100 lithographic editions. Artists like John Piper, Anne Redpath, Bernard Cheese, Elizabeth Blackadder to name but a few. Below a sample of prints by Michael Ayrton from 1957/58. We have a selection of Harley Brothers prints.

In 1956 John Piper produced a lithograph with a small firm of Edinburgh printers, Harley Brothers Ltd. This was the first of around 120 artists lithographs to be printed in collaboration with Harley’s. All together around 35 artists including Anne Redpath, Cyril Wilson, Bernard Cheese, Alistair Grant and Terry Frost were commissioned as part of an initiative begun by Robert Erskine, of St George’s Gallery in London. Erskine was inspired by the atelier system he had witnessed in Paris and was to play a part in the resurgence of printmaking in Britain during the 1950’s.

The collaborative idea was subsequently taken up in a programme to be funded by the Scottish Committee of the Arts Council, which encouraged Scottish artists such as Elizabeth Blackadder and Robin Phillipson to work alongside Harley’s.

Erskine hoped to emulate this experience in England and with the opening in 1959 of the Curwen Studio under Stanley Jones the production of artists’ prints in Harley’s was to come to an end. Amongst the first artists to produce work at Curwen were Elizabeth Blackadder and John Piper, along with Ceri Richards and Henry Moore. Graham Sutherland, Barbara Hepworth, Alan Davie, Patrick Heron, Howard Hodgkin, R B Kitaj, Michael Rothenstein, Eduardo Poalozzi, Peter Blake and Paula Rego have all made work at Curwen over the years.

Simultaneously Maria Luigia Guaita came to Scotland in 1958 to deepen her knowledge of printmaking and was taken to meet Anne Redpath who was working on her lithographs at Harley’s. She was inspired by Redpath’s work and fell in love with the technique of lithography. On her return to Florence she founded Il Bisonte studios in 1959. Many British artists such as Lynn Chadwick, Graham Sutherland and Henry Moore accepted the invitation to work there, and it continues to this day.

Those Scottish artists who had the opportunity to work at Harley’s were instrumental in the development of printmaking within the Edinburgh Art College’s School of Drawing and Painting, bringing in traditions from beyond Scotland in tutors Roy Wood and Kim Kempshall. When their first students emerged from College there was a will for a print workshop and in 1967 Britain’s first open access print studio, The Printmakers Workshop, was opened in Edinburgh. The first exhibition to be shown was an exhibition of prints from Il Bisonte, held to benefit the recovery of the Florentine studio after it was flooded by the River Arno in 1966.

Edinburgh Printmakers, as it is now called, continues to support artists in their lithographic practice and has worked with artists such as William Johnstone, John Bellany and more recently Angie Lewin. By coincidence, when in 1984 Edinburgh Printmakers moved to larger premises, they moved to the top of Leith Walk, close to where Harley Brothers had their small printing premises in St James Square.