THE life and work of Saltaire artist William Capeling Stevens will be celebrated in an exhibition at Bradford Cathedral.

Recluse: The Life and Work of William Capeling Stevens, 1870-1911 highlights the eccentric talent of Stevens, who was found dead in the kitchen of his rented home in Albert Terrace, Saltaire, on January 9, 1911. He had been dead for three weeks, his body laying undiscovered over the Christmas period, until found by a visiting rent collector. A rumour quickly spread around Saltaire that he had died of starvation.

"Today, Stevens might find himself on a ‘Neighbours from Hell’ television programme," says arts enthusiast Colin Neville. "At his inquest, a neighbour told the coroner that the artist would play his violin until late at night and that he isolated himself from others around him. Stevens, she said, was 'A very reserved man and scarcely spoke to or noticed anyone'. His father told the inquest that he hadn't seen his son for three months, even though he and other family members lived less than a mile away.

"After his death, scores of his paintings were found in his house and sold at auction to a local man, Bertram Heaton, one of the few local friends William had made. In 1970, Bertram Heaton exhibited the paintings at Bradford Central Library and the Telegraph & Argus art critic wrote: 'Stevens has been unjustly overlooked as an artist. Several of his landscapes have been mistaken for Turners and his excellent portraits reveal his warm humanity'."

It was after coming across a brief mention of Stevens in an art directory that Mr Neville started to research his life for his ‘Not Just Hockney’ website. "He was a tall, bespectacled, reclusive man, who would fly into a rage if crossed," says Mr Nevill. "Once, when he had been commissioned to paint a portrait of a successful Shipley builder, the builder brought some friends along, despite the artist’s protests, to see the work in progress. They made the mistake of rummaging through other unfinished art work in the studio, infuriating Stevens, who threw them all out and cut the portrait into strips, parcelled it up and gave it to the maid at the builder’s house.

"Yet he was a very talented artist," adds Mr Neville. "He'd studied at the Saltaire School of Art, showing an aptitude for oil and watercolour painting. He moved to London to study at the South Kensington School of Art (later the Royal College of Art) and he became a supporter and member of the New English Art Club. His work was exhibited at the New Gallery, London, and later at at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, Manchester City Art Gallery, and at a Royal Society of British Artists exhibition."

Unable to trace any of Stevens' paintings on public display, Mr Neville appealed in the T&A for help and was approached by Jill Collinson and her brother John Lambert, grandchildren of Bertram Heaton. "They inherited Bertram’s wonderful collection of Stevens' artwork, we've been working together to find a suitable public venue to display a selection of them. Maggie Peel, and her colleague, Gillian Davis, at Bradford Cathedral, kindly agreed to use the ‘Artspace’ at the Cathedral to display the work - the first time for nearly 50 years they will have been seen in public.

"The Cathedral is, in my view, the perfect place to show the paintings, particularly over the Easter period. Not only will visitors be able to witness the talent of Stevens for themselves, they will be able to think about how we as individuals and as a society respond to others who are different, and who find it hard to respond to us in conventional or expected ways.

Reclusive people, in particular, can scare us, as we may find it hard to understand and be insulted by their reluctance to engage with us. Our reactions can drive that person further into themselves."

* The exhibition runs from April 4 to May 6. There will be an illustrated talk by John Lambert about William Steven’s life and work on April 1 at 7pm.

* Visity