by Caitlyn Harrison
Frank Patterson (1871-1952) was a highly renowned commercial artist, active from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s. He was able to produce art in many different forms and styles, however, it is his intricate line drawings using a pen that are his most famous and impressive pieces. It would not be difficult to find examples of these pieces of artwork, as it is estimated he produced over 25,000 in his lifetime.
His work mainly showed idyllic countryside scenes, depicting a bicycle or motorcar nestled within the landscape. These pieces of work were produced for travel magazines, most notably The Motor and CTC Gazette. What is fascinating about Patterson’s work is the sheer longevity of his career, and how through analysing examples throughout his career, social and technological advancements can be recorded within his work.
He was drawing for these magazines in the golden age of the bicycle and motor car, representing the immense possibility these items could offer a person, and, arguably, alluding to the ever-growing fallacy of the serene open road. Due to the sudden popularity of the bicycle and motor car, the once quiet and peaceful countryside scenes were now overrun with weekend tourists and visitors. But that is never what Patterson portrayed in his work. Instead he captured a time of early exploration and vast empty roads of possibility, which was far from what it came to be in the later years of his career.
Patterson’s work can also be accredited, alongside other travel artists and other factors, for helping to champion the use of the ‘safety’ bicycle, which is the bicycle we still use today. This overtook the use of the ‘ordinary’ (the proper name for a penny farthing!). The same can be said for the increase in popularity of the motor car, which was in its relative infancy in the early 1900s. Patterson, by contributing to these magazines, aimed at the middle classes and higher lower classes as reflected in their cover price, allowed the masses of society to see the great possibility these modes of transport could offer.
He is somewhat of an anomaly when it comes to artists of this era. He is nothing like the contemporary metropolitan artist, as he was a burly countryman who lived in a remote cottage. He was also a farmer (hat and rifle included!). He had an affinity to the countryside and lived in his famous cottage Pear Tree Cottage from his 20s until the day he died.
Frank Patterson was an interesting and talented artist. His life and work reflect the society that he was a part of, which I find to be an incredibly special part of this artist. He was vastly popular as an artist and had a society dedicated to his work (The Frank Patterson Appreciation Society) which ran for many years until the mid- nineties. He is still known within the cycling community but has fallen into obscurity the past few decades.
If you are interested in finding out more about this amazing artist, you can find a trove of work at the Richard Roberts Archive, located in Stockport. There are hundreds of examples of his work within publications, and the archive boasts a database of some of Patterson’s work, with over 500 entries.