Mary Fedden, OBE RA RWA, was a British painter who lived from August 14, 1915 until June 22, 2012. Mary Fedden dropped out of school at the age of sixteen to attend the Slade School of Art. She made a living after graduation by teaching, painting portraits, and designing theatrical sets for Sadlers Wells and the Arts Theatre.
Fedden’s passion for art began at a young age, and she began her career as an artist in 1932, at the age of 17, when she enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Arts. She studied under renowned designer Victor Polunin at the Slade, which led to a brief stint as a set designer for Sadler’s Wells before returning to her hometown of Bristol to work as a portrait artist and instructor.
Mary Fedden was once considered a mere follower of her husband’s artistic lessons, a mere protegee. Collectors have been more appreciative of the painting as an individual in recent years, particularly since her death in 2012. A strongly established Fedden market exists now, with some of her work lately selling for upwards of £100,000, indicating that the art world is finally recognising an unusual style that was entirely Fedden’s own.
Mary Fedden grew up in Bristol and attended the Bristol Badminton School. She was 16 years old when she went to the Slade School of Fine Arts in London from 1932 to 1936. ‘Walking from hell into bliss at the Slade after Badminton,’ she remarked of her time there. Fedden studied at the Slade under theatre designer Vladimir Polunin.
Style and Influences
When WWII broke out, Fedden was a member of the Land Army and the Women’s Voluntary Service, and she was entrusted with painting battle scenes. In 1944, she was assigned as a driver to the Navy, Army, and Air Force Institutes.
After the war, Fedden returned to easel painting and developed her own style of still life painting. ‘I actually float from influence to influence,’ Fedden said in an essay for ‘The Artist’ magazine. Early Ben Nicholson paintings, as well as those of his wife Winifred, piqued my interest. I particularly admire Scottish artist Anne Redpath and French painter Henri Hayden.’
Fedden’s subjects are typically shown in a powerful, expressive manner with brilliant, clashing colours, while her work from 2005–6 has a more limited tonal range. Because she appreciates the juxtaposition of varied, even bizarre components, her still lifes are typically placed in front of a landscape. She used watercolours to emphasise the rough texture of her favourite Indian papers.
Fedden, who is now in her 90s, still lives and works in Chiswick, on the Thames River. Trevelyan and Fedden travelled widely together, including collaborating on a Charing Cross Hospital painting project. Fedden got several more mural contracts, including the Festival of Britain (1951), the P & O Liner, Canberra (1961), as well as schools and hospitals.
From 1947 until her death in 2012, Fedden exhibited in one-person exhibits all throughout the UK. These included really prestigious galleries, exhibit areas, and other famous centres. This helped in making the reach of the artworks too far and beyond. In 1996, the Royal West of England Academy hosted a major exhibition of her art.
1967 – Mansard Gallery, Heal’s, London
2016 – Jerwood Gallery, Hastings
Commissions and societies
Fedden also painted murals for the 1951 Festival of Britain, the P&O ship Canberra in 1961, Charing Cross Hospital in 1980 (with her husband Julian Trevelyan), Colindale Hospital in 1985, and schools in Bristol, Hertfordshire, and London.
Fedden became a member of the London Group in 1956 and served as chairperson of the Women’s International Art Club for three years.
Fedden was the first female lecturer at the Royal College of Art’s Painting School, where she taught painting from 1958 until 1964. She taught at the Yehudi Menuhin School in Cobham, Surrey, from 1965 until 1970.
Mel Gooding, a writer and critic, wrote a monograph on her work in 1995, chronicling her long career up to her marriage to Julian Trevelyan and their life on the banks of the Thames in Chiswick, London. Christopher Andreae published a second book on Fedden in 2007, which covered her whole career up to 2006.
Fedden was the RWA’s President from 1984 until 1988, when her husband Julian Trevelyan died. She was a Royal Academy academician and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Bath. In 2009, she received an OBE and an honorary degree from the University of Durham for her services.
For many years, Fedden was a personal friend of former television broadcaster Anna Ford. Fedden was a prolific and well-known painter until her death in 2012. She continued to live and work at the studio she shared with her husband on the River Thames in London from the 1940s forward. She died at the age of 96 in London.