Louis Ginnett (1875-1946) was a painter primarily of portraits and interiors, a mural painter and a designer of stained glass. He exhibited widely in his lifetime, including at the Royal Academy, and was one of the British artists selected to be exhibited by the British Council in 1912 in Venice.
Ginnett was born into a large circus family and educated at Brighton Grammar School [latterly Brighton, Hove & Sussex Grammar School]. He studied art at Brighton and then at the Academie Julian in Paris and began teaching at Brighton School of Art as early as 1909. There is some archival reference to him by students at Brighton in the 1930s, but it is ‘Past and Present’, the Grammar School magazine, that provides a more substantial appreciation of Louis Ginnett, written shortly after his death in 1946. Here it said that, “His students testify with enthusiasm, and by their own success, to his teaching ability and to the encouragement and inspiration they received from him.”
It seems therefore that Ginnett was a talented teacher. The same appreciation in ‘Past and Present’ also mentions that he was a founder member of the Brighton Arts Club, a member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, a frequent exhibitor, including at the Royal Academy, a campaigner against building development around Ditchling, a mural painter, a designer of stained glass and, it adds, a Freemason.
Although not an official war artist, Ginnett’s sketches and paintings from the First World War show his interest in trying to capture the phenomenon of devastation on the Western Front: the denuded, barren environment and alienation from what might be thought of as ‘normal’ civilized peacetime life for a middle class man of the early twentieth century.
According to catalogue information in the Imperial War Museum, Ginnett initially volunteered for service in 1915 with other artists from the St John’s Wood Arts Club, serving as a private with the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. He was made lieutenant in the Royal Garrison Artillery in 1916, serving in France, and was probably promoted in 1918. He seems to have been very keen to continue drawing and painting throughout his period of service. A note on the flyer of one his diaries, signed by his Major, gives official permission for this, saying that 2nd Lt Ginnett wished to make his sketches “while off-duty…He does so merely as a recreation, and is willing to submit his sketch book to the censor.”
Apart from the period of service in the forces during the First World War, Ginnett taught at Brighton School of Art for over 30 years, seeing many changes. In the thirties the progressive new Principal, Sallis Benney, was keen to develop the School’s international outlook. He was also keen to provide a better artistic training for students so that they would have an impact in industry and help fuel demand for better-designed goods. Not everyone in the town felt quite so in tune with these ambitious aims, however, with some seeing the art school as financially wasteful and its staff appointed through favouritism. In 1939, 30 members of part-time staff, including Louis Ginnett and Charles Knight, were sacked on the basis of this accusation of favouritism, although the decision was rescinded less than two months later.
Ginnett died in 1946 and is buried in Woodvale Cemetery, Brighton, where the figure of a horse represents his family’s background in the circus.
Ditchling Museum of Art
Imperial War Museum
Royal Pavilion & Museums Trust, Brighton & Hove
The Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate
Royal Academy of Music