Jay, 1992

by Mary Fedden


DIMENSIONS: (unframed) 5.9 x 9.1 inches (15 x 23 cm)
SIGNATURE: Signed and dated (lower right)
MEDIUM: Gouache on paper

Mary Fedden has here painted in gouache a small jay against a distant landscape. The piece is full of colour and character, ranging from blurred swatches of colour to crisp lines of detail to show the delicacy of the bird’s feet. Fedden was an artist whose exquisitely executed paintings often take the form of a hybrid between a still life and a landscape. In these, a group of objects fruit, glasses, bottles, even cats – are depicted in fine detail in front of a striking background scene. These intriguing combinations illustrate the depth of vision, both in a figurative and literal sense, which Fedden portrayed in her work.


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    Catalogue No: 5927 Categories: , , Tags: ,

    This painting is a work by Mary Fedden, who enjoyed a stellar career, spanning most of the 20th Century.  In this sensitive depiction of a Jay, Fedden has captured the character of this little bird with her delicate colour palette. This piece was painted in the same year that Fedden was elected a Royal Academician in the Senior Order.

    Birds are a common theme in Mary Fedden’s paintings. They feature over and again, whether incidental or as the main focal point of a work. In 1999, Mary Fedden published Birds, a little book showcasing a wonderful collection of original watercolours inspired by one of her favourite subjects. In the foreword to the book, Mel Gooding, author and critic, writes “Mary Fedden’s birds are not the birds of the guide book and handbook, schematically delineated for use in the identification, or those of the great ornithological albums, such as those of Audubon, Gould or Thorburn, whose subjects are described with the definitive accuracy of scientist and the grace of the gifted enthusiast. They are the birds of her life, casually seen and enjoyed in gardens and parks, encountered with joy on a holiday walk by the sea, glimpsed from a window on the familiar river and its muddy banks, or found with unabashed pleasure in guidebooks or albums. They are, in the true sense of the word, appropriated: that is to say, taken out of nature and of art, and made her own.

    “Their nests and eggs were never seen but in these paintings. Fedden’s birds are never symbolic, and only in the most general sense emblematic, as, inescapably, all birds are in our culture. They spring to a poetic life of their own in her paintings. I know of no one who knows and loves birds in nature, amongst the most dedicated of birdwatchers and the most assiduous of ornithologists, who does not love Fedden’s birds for their quickness and quiddity in her art.”

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    Mary Fedden was born in Bristol, and attended the city’s Badminton School, until she left at age sixteen, to study at the Slade School of Art, from 1932 to 1936. After leaving the college she lived between London and Bristol, and made a living teaching, painting portraits and producing stage designs for Sadler’s Wells and the Arts Theatre. At the outbreak of the Second World War, Fedden served in the Land Army and the Woman’s Voluntary Service and was commissioned to produce murals for the war effort. In 1944 she was sent abroad as a driver for the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes.  After the war, she returned to easel painting and developed her individual style of still life painting, partially inspired by Modern painters such as Matisse and Braque.

    In 1951 Mary Fedden married the artist Julian Trevelyan, whom she had met before the war. They took a studio on the Thames River at Chiswick, where Fedden lived and worked until she passed away. Together, Trevelyan and Fedden travelled widely and even collaborated on a mural commission for Charing Cross Hospital. Fedden received several other commissions for murals, most importantly from the Festival of Britain (1951), the P & O Liner, Canberra (1961) as well as from schools and hospitals.

    In 1955, in an article in ‘The Artist’ magazine, Fedden wrote: “I really float from influence to influence. I found the early Ben Nicholson’s fascinating as were the paintings of his wife Winifred. I also admire the Scottish artist Anne Redpath and the French painter Henri Hayden.”

    From 1958-1964 Fedden taught at the Royal College of Art and was the first female tutor in the Painting School. Her pupils included David Hockney and Allen Jones. Subsequently, Fedden taught at the Yehudi Menuhin School in Surrey, and was elected Royal Academician. From 1984 to 1988 she was President of the Royal West of England Academy. She was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Bath, as well as the University of Durham, and an O.B.E. for her work.


    If the artwork is up to £25,00 in value, and the artist is still alive, Trinity House can arrange a 0% interest loan through the Own Art scheme. Own Art is a Creative United initiative supported by Arts Council England, Creative Scotland and Arts Council of Northern Ireland. Some other restrictions apply see…


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