A Guide to the Work of Mary Fedden

Her unique and quirky style remained present in her art throughout her career


Born in Bristol in 1915, Mary Fedden was an acclaimed modernist painter, who remained popular and prolific right until her death in 2012. Her work mostly consists of still lifes, ranging from small watercolours, gouaches, and collages to larger oil paintings, all recognisable due to their bold and expressive style.

Mary Fedden RA (1915-2012) British, 'Eggs in bowl and lemon'

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It would be fair to say that Fedden’s life was one full of variety and different experiences. She studied at Slade School of Art in London under famous theatre designer Vladimir Polunin, and under his tutelage painted sets for professional stage performances – though she soon decided this was not what she wanted to do for her career. Following this, she served in the Land Army and Woman’s Voluntary Service during the second World War, painting propaganda murals. During the war she was also sent abroad as a driver. In later life she travelled the world with her artist partner Julian Trevelyan (1910-1988) notably spending time in Europe and Africa, as well as India, Russia, and America. She also became the first woman to teach at the Royal College of Art, in the late 1950s, with pupils including David Hockney and Allen Jones. It might be fair to assume then, that with such vivid life experience, it was only natural that her art would echo this richness.



Mary Fedden OBE, RA, RWA (1915-2012), 'Cat & Egg'

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Her first exhibition was at the Mansard Gallery in Heal's Department Store in 1947, the first one-person show that she exhibited in, a format that she continued every year following, until her death in 2012. The exhibition told the story of what was to come with her art, featuring mostly still life and flower paintings, which whilst being reminiscent of artists such as Henri Matisse and Georges Braque, were distinctly her own style.



Mary Fedden RA (1915-2010) British, a bird in a landscape

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Fedden was quoted as saying that her paintings are a ‘mixture of things’ that she is ‘looking at’, combined with her ‘thoughts and imagination’. This led to a unique and quirky style that remained present in her art throughout her career, with contrast often playing a big part in her work. She often painted landscapes behind her still life subjects as she enjoyed the contrast between them, and often emphasised the roughness of the paper when painting with watercolours. Combined with her frequent usage of strong, contrasting colours, Fedden’s work is thus often bold and characterful.



Mary Fedden OBE RA RWA (1915-2012) British 'Massa Lubrense'

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Throughout her career, Fedden saw her work met with critical and widespread acclaim, with work featured in numerous museums and collections, notably including the Tate Gallery, the Royal Academy in London, Contemporary Art Society and HM The Queen’s Collection, as well as several universities and other collections. Portland Gallery director Jamie Anderson commented in 2022 about the enduring popularity of the artist, stating that ‘collecting Mary’s work seems to be hereditary, with each new generation finding fresh pleasure in viewing and owning her paintings.’


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