Romeo C. Toogood (1902-66)

Garden, Marlborough Park

Oil on canvas

58cm x 49cm

From the collection of Northern Ireland Civil Service

Born in Belfast in 1902, Romeo Charles Toogood was the son of Charles Toogood, a stone-carver who had moved from England to work on the construction of Belfast City Hall. Toogood attended Hillman Street Public Elementary School before finding work as a painter and decorator at the age of 14. In 1922 he entered the Belfast School of Art, where, after graduating, he taught in the evenings to save enough money to study at the Royal College of Art in London. The £300 that he saved was not enough to last the full three years required but the College administrators agreed to let him complete his studies a year early.

Toogood returned to Northern Ireland in 1930 and began his teaching career at Larne Technical School. Posts followed in Downpatrick, Lisburn and Dungannon, before he was appointed as painting and drawing master at Belfast School of Art. He remained in this post until his retirement, teaching many students who went on to become successful artists, such as Basil Blackshaw, Terry Flanagan and Cherith McKinstry to name but a few. It has been suggested that his dedication to teaching art limited his ability to pursue a career in it, as he lacked time to paint and exhibit. Toogood contributed to several group shows, including, significantly, the only collective show of the avant-garde Ulster Unit, alongside fellow members of the Unit such as John Luke, Mercy Hunter, George MacCann and Colin Middleton. In 1958, he was persuaded by CEMA, the forerunner of the Arts Council, to put on a solo exhibition at Belfast’s Piccolo Gallery.

Although mainly a landscape artist, his output also includes portraits and printworks. Lagan Valley and the Cushendun area were among his favourite places to paint. This work, Garden, Marlborough Park, depicts an altogether more suburban scene. Toogood draws the viewer across the low brick wall away from the domesticity of the back garden to the bucolic, autumnal parkland that lies beyond it. The palette here is not dissimilar to that of his contemporary, John Luke, but as John Hewitt noted in his Paint in Ulster, Toogood’s colour is somehow quieter than Luke’s, his shapes more informal and closer to normal representation.