A CHANCE discovery of an etching of a Craven church in a Skipton bookshop set Celia Austin off on decades long research into the master etcher and printmaker James Robert Granville Exley, who was born in Bradford in 1878 and died in 1967.

Having first come across the etching of St Mary’s at Thornton, Celia, who had never written a book before, was hooked, and with the coronavirus lockdowns being the ‘spur she needed’, she knuckled down and has now published JRG Exley: A Yorkshire Artist.

Celia, who lived in Earby for nearly 30 years from the mid 1970s before moving to Worcestershire, still maintains links with the area, including being a member of the Earby and District Historical Society.

She says: “This Yorkshireman, with his love of his homeland and of country sports, combined with his extensive knowledge of poultry breeds, achieved much in his lifetime.

“ He had been principal of three prestigious art schools, had been made a freeman of the City of London and had 32 items accepted for the Royal Academy.”

Her book, which includes more than 100 illustrations, covers Granville’s school days to his life as a master etcher and printmaker with his most sought-after images being of various, exotic poultry breeds.

Although his career took him around the country, he stayed faithful to his Yorkshire roots and produced many illustrations of the landscapes he knew so well.

Granville’s family were from a long line of Kelbrook Exleys but his formative years were spent where he was born, in Great Horton, Bradford.

At school his artistic talents soon surfaced and he began winning national prizes for subjects requiring meticulous accuracy - practical plane and solid geometry, drawing in outline from the cast. Following his general education, he was invited to remain as a pupil-teacher in the school’s art department where he continued his own training in subjects as varied as wood carving to shading from models.

After his father retired, the family returned to Kelbrook. Granville transferred to Skipton School of Art where he achieved the necessary qualifications to become a Senior Art Master.

Then 24 years old, and with the comfort of teaching qualifications under his belt, his ambition turned to further art training.

He was awarded a West Riding County Council scholarship which granted him £60 per year and enrolled at the Royal College of Art in London, where he spent five years.

He made a special study of etching and printing under the expert guidance of Sir Frank Short. He became an Associate of the Royal Society of Painter etchers and Engravers and was encouraged to submit work for the summer exhibitions at the Royal Academy.

He then found employment as Deputy Principal of the Ryland Memorial School of Art in West Bromwich.

A year later he was appointed Principal of the newly combined School of Art and County School for Girls at Cambridge.

The prospectus for 1911 shows a heavy workload but he still managed to produce his own work, much of which was accepted for inclusion at the Royal Academy exhibitions.

In 1912 he married Elizabeth Shuttleworth from Earby at the parish church of Saint Mary the Virgin, Thornton- in -Craven and the family moved back north. He was appointed Head of Hull Municipal School of Art, a position he retained until after the First World War.

However, his ambition was still to become a full-time artist and he returned to the capital. The 1920s were successful for Granville, etchings were again in vogue and his accurate depictions of rare poultry breeds were selling extremely well, both at home and in the United States.

He had a successful one-man show in 1929 but then came the Wall Street Crash. Many artists fell upon hard times, Granville found that commissions were still forthcoming but the heyday of the British etching was over. He fell back upon other skills and secured a part-time position as senior visiting drawing master at the City of London School for Boys.

He remained in London until after the Second World War and then in 1946 the family returned to their roots, buying a home overlooking the river Wharfe near Grassington.

The property contained a large studio which housed his old but reliable etching press. He divided his time between his art and his beloved Japanese bantams.

JRG Exley: A Yorkshire Artist is available for £10, or £13.00 by post, and copies can be ordered by emailing celia.austin07@gmail.com.