Mary Fedden painted with the vigour and individuality that has made her one of Britain’s best-loved contemporary artists. Mary Fedden's work is in nearly every modern British collection including the Tate, the Royal Academy and the personal collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle.
Mary Fedden was born in Bristol, in 1915, the daughter of a sugar broker. "I loved drawing when I was very small. I always did." Mary remembered. On leaving Badminton school at sixteen Mary was awarded a scholarship to the Slade School of Art in London (1932-1936) where she studied under the Russian theatre designer Vladimir Polunin who had worked with Diaghilev and the legendary Ballets Russes. His influence was strong and Mary is still fascinated by stage design. After finishing at the Slade Mary briefly returned to Bristol to teach when her career was interrupted by the declaration of war. Mary served in the Land Army and the Women’s Voluntary Service. She was also commissioned to produce murals for the war effort.
While studying at the Slade Mary met and fell in love with the renowned artist and printmaker, Julian Trevelyan. It wasn’t however, until 1949 that Mary moved in with Julian to a complex of studios clinging to the banks of the River Thames. They married in 1951. Julian, who died in 1988 and initially gained recognition for his 1930’s Surrealist prints, had a tremendously positive approach to painting which had a radical effect on Mary’s work. His Surrealism brought out her absurd and dreamlike qualities and her passion for colour and pattern matured as she established her distinctive style of still life painting using flattened space and tantalising disproportion.
"When a painting of mine comes out a bit quirky, I’m always very pleased – it doesn’t happen often enough." Her style of painting has influenced an enormous number of contemporary painters. "Each of my paintings is a mixture of things that I’m looking at, and my thoughts and imagination",she said. As she painted she moved from one area to another, all the while considering how each shape relates to the rest in a balanced and ordered composition which juxtaposes familiar objects like wine bottles, jugs and fruit with the witty addition of curiosities from her collection of objects that she had hoarded over the years. Mary referred to have a dominant colour in each painting with all the others colours harmonising with it but then she would introduce an accent of striking, sensuous colour to intrigue and arrest the viewer. Mary and Julian’s passion for travelling led them to tour extensively in Europe, Africa, India, Russia and America. Since 1946 Mary painted prolifically and had regular exhibitions in London and throughout Britain. She painted murals at the 1951 Festival of Britain and went on to teach painting at the Royal College of Art from 1958 to 1964 where she was the first woman tutor to teach in the Painting School, with David Hockney and Allen Jones amongst her students. She then taught at the Yehudi Menuhin School from 1965 to 1970. Mary Fedden was the President of the Royal West of England Academy from 1984 to 1988 and was elected a Royal Academician in the Senior Order in 1992. She received an OBE and a Doctor of Literature from Bath University in the 1990’s.
‘She paints with unstinting disregard for the tastes and opinions of others and paints fast and often. She paints ‘through the bad times’ and paints on because continuing to paint is what she chooses and loves to do, and it is what drives her. Stopping is just not part of the plan.’ from ‘Mary Fedden: Enigma and Variations’ by Christopher Andreae.