Reference NumberP/MCC
Creator_NameMcCarthy, Cornelius
Dobson, Peter
TitleRecords relating to artist Cornelius McCarthy
DescriptionOriginal artwork by Cornelius McCarthy and author Peter Dobson's research papers relating to the artist.

- Cornelius McCarthy Sketchbooks:

Sixty two sketchbooks in the artist's studio at the time of his death, arranged by Peter Dobson in two sequences:

Numerical: dated volumes

Alphabetical: undated sequence

- Research papers for Peter Dobson's biographical book on Cornelius McCarthy, including some original

Various files of research material both typed and handwritten, six boxes of catalogue index cards, several books,
two portfolios with pencil and painted artworks and one framed painting.

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Extent24 boxes
AdminHistoryCornelius McCarthy (1935-2009)

Cornelius McCarthy was an artist and painter who specialised in the male form. He was born in 1935 in the East London Maternity Home, a child of mixed Irish Catholic and Eastern European Jewish heritage. His artistic talents were nurtured by his Catholic upbringing, enabling him to come into intellectual contact with great Catholic renaissance painters like Raphael and Michelangelo. This was aided by his enrolment in a number of local Catholic schools. As a schoolboy he enrolled in numerous art classes, both inside school and at Toynbee Hall, though his sketches and drawings always drew inspiration from the churches and buildings of his native Stepney.

In 1950 McCarthy's hard work paid off and he won a place at Goldsmiths College School of Art. It was here that he would meet Sam Rabin, the art teacher who taught him the importance of line in defining form. His sketches and drawings since that time clearly indicate how he took this lesson to heart. McCarthy's pursuit of art was not stopped even when Queen and Country called on him to perform his National Service; colleagues recall him drawing on anything to hand, even military forms and telephone directories. After being demobilised McCarthy assumed a post at Stepney Public Libraries where he met Alec Ayres (1929-2015), the man who would become his lifelong partner.

For McCarthy it was a time of great success, since it was around this time that his artwork began to regularly be accepted for public exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery. But it was at the Keith Vaughan retrospective at Whitechapel in 1962 that the proverbial lightning bolt struck, convincing him that the male nude was a subject worthy of pursuit in its own right. Over the next three decades McCarthy would focus almost exclusively on male nudes whilst at the same time travelling widely in order to study the artistry of other famous painters in Italy, Spain, America and many other places besides. All the while he continued to experiment with pencil and brush, dipping into the methods of Picasso and Cubism whilst still maintaining his unique style.

In 1995 McCarthy became one of the first artists to have his works exhibited at the Adonis Art exhibition. It was a partnership that was to last until his death and its legacy still lives on to the present day. McCarthy himself, by this point in time a retired man, continued to venture abroad in search of inspiration, visiting Mexico in 1997. The artwork he produced whilst there was included in the special Adonis 'Mexico' exhibition the following year. The gallery was one of McCarthy's central drives and he continued to produce material for it until 2007.

Unfortunately by this point health problems had begun to encroach on McCarthy's daily life, though he still continued to paint whenever he was able. Sadly matters did not improve and McCarthy died at home on November 19th, 2009. Upon his death Alec Ayres, his lifelong partner and Executor, donated his sketchbooks to Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives. These books contain the sum total of McCarthy's rough work, and it is hoped that by preserving them future generations will be able to understand and appreciate the impact he had on both the local environment of Stepney and the world of art as a whole.

Peter Dobson (1940-2017)

Peter Dobson grew up in Bromley, Kent, and gained a scholarship to St Olave's grammar school. After leaving school he worked for the Hackney Council Library service and in 1966 was appointed assistant to the newly created post of Information Officer for Tower Hamlets. This move led to him meeting Alec Ayres and his partner, Cornelius McCarthy, and thus began the start of a life-long friendship. Alec and Peter shared a great love of music, art and literature and would meet regularly in Alec's family home in Arbour Square, Stepney. Their friendship and shared interests is reflected in the correspondence between Peter, Alec and Cornelius as they frequently discuss artworks and literature.

In 2007 the Adonis gallery published an illustrated monograph of Cornelius's work and Peter was commissioned to write an introduction and commentaries on the plates. Following Cornelius's death in 2009, the same gallery asked Peter to write a biographical essay and commentaries on the pictures for the catalogue of a memorial exhibition. At the same time Alec asked Peter to start archiving Cornelius's art works that remained in their home in Norfolk. He also commissioned Peter to research and write Cornelius's biography, published as 'Radiant Affinities, the life and work of Cornelius McCarthy.' On Alec's behalf Peter arranged for the deposit of Cornelius's sketch books to Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives (THLHLA), where they now form the basis of a growing archive of Cornelius's creative output. In 2015 Peter curated a very successful exhibition of artworks by Cornelius which was held in the entrance hall of THLHLA and entitled 'Radiant Affinities: Artworks by Cornelius McCarthy' (12 February - 7 May 2015). A further exhibition of prints and poems by Cornelius McCarthy and Peter Dobson entitled 'Shared Visions' was held in THLHLA's first floor landing in 2019 (2-28 February 2019) as part of LGBQT history month. This exhibition hosted a display of rarely seen prints by Cornelius McCarthy alongside some of Peter's poetry in commemoration of both artists and their relationship.

N.B. The section of the Admin History relating to Peter Dobson was created with the assistance of his partner, Stan Lloyd, who helpfully provided a short biography. THLHLA is grateful for his contribution and assistance with making this collection accessible.
CustodialHistoryThe sketchbooks were held by Cornelius McCarthy during his lifetime and passed to his partner Alec Ayres upon the artist's death in 2009, they were transferred to THLHLA by Mr. Ayres in September 2013. Peter Dobson's records were held by himself until his death in 2017, as part of his bequest the records were transferred to THLHLA in 2018-2019 by his partner, Stan Lloyd.
RelatedMaterialWithin THLHLA:

P/MIS/483, P/STA within the archive collections and other material within the library collections including: LC12532; LC13263; LC13265; LC13266; LC13267; LC13268 and P34264 and P34283 within the image collections. Papers of John Konsbruck [1950s - 2005], P/KON
ArchNoteCornelius McCarthy's sketchbooks (P/MCC/1-P/MCC/2) were catalogued by Matthew Clifford, April-May 2014; Peter Dobson's records re Cornelius McCarthy (P/MCC/3) were catalogued by Zachariah Schieferstein, April-May 2019. Additions and revisions to the catalogue were also made by Natasha Luck, May-June 2019.
Access StatusOpen
AccessConditionsMost of the material within this collection is openly accessible, however, some records within series P/MCC/3 are closed because they contain personal data relating to potentially living individuals, please see individual entries for details of which records are closed and their closure periods.
RequestNO - This does not represent a physical document. Please click on the reference number and view list of records to find material available to order at file or item level.


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