Big Bertha

Helen Bradley mixed a little pink oil colour and painted the dress of a tiny figure – Miss Carter – who would feature in most of her paintings, alongside her mother, grandmother three maiden aunts, Mr Taylor (the bank manager) Helen with brother George and their dogs Gyp and Barney…

Incorrectly described as a naive or primitive artist she began her art education at the age of 13, winning a scholarship to Oldham Art School. The outbreak of WW1 and parental opposition brought an early end to her creative ambitions. She later married the painter and textile designer Thomas Bradley and devoted the next forty years of her life to her family. It was not until she was in her sixties that she started to depict Lancashire life in the Edwardian era.

In the 1960s she met L. S. Lowry who encouraged her in the creation of a narrative style based on her own childhood memories. One of the great story tellers of the 20th century Bradley would often write extensive backstories to the paintings filled with autobiographical detail. These painted stories were an instant success and from 1965 she became as popular in the US as in the UK. ‘The enchantment of the season’, wrote the International Herald Tribune.

In 1971 Jonathan Cape published the first of four books And Miss Carter Wore Pink. Editions were then published in German, French, Dutch and Japanese, and a special edition produced for the US. The series, illustrated with Bradley’s naive paintings, topped the bestseller lists in the early 1970s. A darling of the chat shows she appeared Pebble Mill at One and the Russell Harty Show. She was also a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs. Her favourite track was Trois Gymnopédies by Satie.

The BBC and the NBC network made documentaries about her life and the Northern Ballet adapted her work for the stage. She died on 19 July 1979 shortly before she was due to be honoured with an MBE. Works by Bradley can be seen at Gallery Oldham.

In May 2013 Bradley’s Going for a Walk Before Bedtime sold at auction, at Bonhams of London, for £37,250

Further information can be found HERE.

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