A working holiday to Spain in 1914 was to sow the seeds for a potential turning point in Apperley’s life. It was to be the first of many visits here and was also his first tour alone. He was fascinated by the place and felt that only by seeing more could he fully understand the country. The material, particularly watercolours that he painted on that first visit, show quite plainly the inspiration that he found there. Examples include ‘Puente de Alcantara, Toledo’ and ‘Morning Mist, Granada’.
Whilst on his travels, the Artist wrote extensively in his personal journal – he was clearly mesmerised by what he saw, especially in Granada; “The Gardens of the Generalife….where goldfish swim in emerald ponds, fountains splash under ancient cypresses and ilex, roses clamber over shady loggias and crystal waters tinkle eternally by the side of steps and terraces in perpetual shade.
“Those hours of work within the precincts of that enchanted domain were hours of pure joy and must always be reckoned among the most perfectly enjoyable of my painting experiences.”
Only shortly after Apperley returned to Britain from this first trip the First World War broke out. This dismal backdrop left the Artist finding it increasingly difficult to find inspiration in his native England and he reflected ever more on the tranquil time which he had spent in Spain. Having been pronounced unfit for military service he was gripped by depression and was advised by his doctors to travel south to a more temperate climate. He took no further bidding, Apperley left for Spain for the second time, alone, in 1916 leaving his English family behind, never to return to them.
With newfound inspiration in his new surroundings the breadth of the Artist’s subject matter increased with landscapes becoming predominantly Spanish and with portraits of exotic Spanish ladies and the ‘Gitanos’ of the Albaicin becoming a central theme of his work. After a short time in Madrid Apperley gravitated back to his best loved Andalusia and Granada where he set up his studio in the Placeta de San Nicolas, close to the gypsy quarter. Examples of his work at this time include ‘Gypsy Fortune Teller’ and ‘A Street in Granada’.
Apperley became recognised in the leading Spanish artistic circles as a result of an exhibition arranged by the Town Hall and the Centro Artistico to celebrate Corpus Christi (1917). Many of Spain’s leading artists were to attend and Apperley’s contributions were pre-raphaelite in theme. His painting ‘The Rose’ took first prize and secured him high acclaim.
Amongst portraits from that time there is a drawing, ‘Cinderella’, this was of the young Enriqueta Contreras who was to become his second wife. Apperley’s work flourished and established the interest of many aficionados and collectors. He was able to mount his first one man exhibition in Spain (Madrid) in November 1918 and was honoured to have it opened by the King and Queen of Spain (photo). It was probably this exhibition that established him as a major Artist in his new adopted homeland.
Although he had severed his English family ties, Apperley continued to have has works hung in exhibitions in London at both the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours and at the Royal Academy and his pictures were frequently depicted in all the major British Art journals – The Studio, Colour, The Sketch, Illustrated London News, The Connoisseur, and Drawing and Design all showed reproductions of his Spanish inspired scenes and portraits.
The Artist continued to travel frequently, in particular to both Italy and Morocco. It was in fact in Tangier that Apperley settled with his family when the Spanish Civil War forced him out in 1932. Typical works following this period include those of Enriqueta and their two sons – George and Riki. Although painting trips were now less far flung (Apperley spent the majority of his time now in his studios in Tangier or Granada) the scope of his subject matter continued to expand and now included in particular beautiful nudes and romantic scenes of Spanish home life. Many dignitaries grew to know of his skills as a portrait painter and commissioned paintings of themselves.
Apperley had always stood up strongly for Nationalist Spain and he was honoured to be awarded the ‘Order of the Mehdavia’ in 1936 for ‘services to the cause’.
His exhibitions in Tangier became increasingly impressive but Apperley still yearned to devote more time to and invest more in his beloved Spain. Having been absent from the capital for many years, his contact with Spain’s cultural and artistic life was re-established in December 1944 in an exhibition of the Fine Arts Circle of Madrid . Indeed in May 1945 he was awarded ‘The Order of Alfonso X’ in recognition of his work – an honour which no other British artist achieved in his lifetime. He was also elected a distinguished member of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Malaga (1951).
Until his death in 1960 Apperley loved the life and people of Andalusia but always remained proud of his noble British heritage. His passion for nature, travel and his insight into all things beautiful which surrounded him remain alive in his work today.
Most notably since his death, the exhibition in the Heller Gallery in Madrid, June 1984 was to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of Apperley’s birth. This display of work from the ‘English Painter of Granada’ was one of the major events in the art world that year. Having remained firmly at the forefront of the minds of all who knew him is his native Granada, this exhibition served to re-establish the major recognition of his name throughout Spain.
Subsequently further exhibitions have been held regularly in Spain (both in Granada and in Madrid) and in 1987 an exhibition of his life and works in Bushey Museum was to signify the reunion of his English and Spanish families.