Martin Battersby was a multitalented francophile with a rare artistic sensibility that mixed meticulous historical accuracy with mischievous wit. He knew precisely how to create a certain romantic mood, referencing the delicate British whimsy of Rex Whistler, inflecting this with a touch of Surrealism, and with the spirit of New Romantic artists he admired – Christian ‘Bébé’ Bérard, Eugène Berman and Pavel Tchelitchew.
Battersby had worked as a decorator, then actor before becoming an artist and designer. In 1938 he designed a production of Hamlet with Laurence Olivier; Battersby established a considerable reputation as a stage designer working with Cecil Beaton on the 1945 production of Lady Windermere’s Fan. At the same time Battersby’s decorative painting was in huge demand in Europe and North America. He painted rooms in the Villa Favorita, St Jean Cap Ferrat for Enid, Lady Kenmare; at the Carlyle Hotel in New York; for Mrs Verner Z. Reed of Palm Beach; Mrs Elinor Ingersoll of Newport and Paul Mellon in Virginia.
From the 1960s onwards he began to develop his reputation as a collector, connoisseur and historian of the visual arts, decorating his home in Brighton in a typically lavish and eclectic way. He ran a boutique and printing studio named Sphinx Studio and in 1969, at the instigation of John Morley, his collection formed the basis for one of the first retrospectives of 1920s style when The Jazz Age was held. The exhibition was opened by Erté.
In 1971, Battersby's partner, Paul Watson, committed suicide.
In 1978, Battersby severed links with Brighton and his former interests, and moved to Fulham, London, where he continued to paint in preparation for a new exhibition that was to be held in 1982. He died, however, before the exhibition began.
Elegant, charming, sometimes waspish, Battersby was an art-for-art’s-sake aesthete with an an air of mystery.