8 Aug 2019

Birmingham artist and poet Emmy Bridgwater honoured with blue plaque

Emmy Bridgwater, a Birmingham artist who was a significant member of the British surrealist movement, has been recognised by the Birmingham Civic Society with a blue plaque, unveiled at a ceremony this week at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (BMAG). 

Birmingham Civic Society awards blue plaques to people who have excelled in their career or made a significant contribution to the city. Emmy Frith Bridgwater, born in Edgbaston in 1906, attended the Birmingham School of Arts & Crafts and was a founder member of the ‘Birmingham Group’ of surrealists, who were influenced by Parisian surrealist artists, such as Salvador Dalí and André Breton.   

Bridgwater moved to London to study at the Grosvenor School of Art where she forged links with the London-based British surrealist group and went on to see her work exhibited across Europe. She moved back to the West Midlands in later life, working mostly in collage in her later years. She died in Solihull in 1999.

The commemorative blue plaque has now been placed on her birthplace and former home in Lee Crescent, Edgbaston. The family who now own Bridgwater’s house, as well as other residents from the area, attended the unveiling ceremony.

Three of Bridgwater’s works are part of the city’s permanent art collection, including one of her most-celebrated paintings, Night Work is about to Commence, currently on display in the Modern British Art gallery at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. The oil painting, which explores the unconscious thoughts of dreams, was chosen by André Breton, the leader of the Paris surrealists, for the International Surrealist Exhibition in Paris in 1947. 

Michael Remy, Professor of English Literature and Art History at the University of Nice, describes Bridgwater to be of the same importance to British surrealism as the arrival of Dalí in the ranks of the French surrealists.

Rita McLean, Chair of Birmingham Civic Society’s Heritage Committee, said: “Emmy Bridgwater was clearly an important surrealist artist and poet deserving of greater recognition. Birmingham Civic Society was pleased to receive a nomination from Lee Crescent Residents Association for a blue plaque and delighted to make the award as a way of highlighting her life, work and association with the city.”

See Night Work is about to Commence (1940 – 43), on display in the Modern British Art gallery (gallery 21) at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery now.