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Mary Fedden 1915-2012

Mary Fedden Tuscan Terrace Mary Fedden
Tuscan Terrace (section), signed and dated 1956, oil on canvas,
50 x 76 cms
Sold £27,500 July 2010 ( estimate £20-30,000)[/caption]

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Jonathan Horwich, Modern Art Specialist

They say you should never meet your heroes, however in my case meeting my heroine Mary Fedden back in 1989 went without a hitch and she was a pure delight throughout.

mary fedden blue table

Mary Fedden
The Blue table, oil on board, 76 x 91 cms.
Painted in 1959,
Sold in Feb 2007 for £49,200 ( estimate 15-20,000)

We were both council members of the artists’ charity the AGBI, founded by J M W Turner in 1814; 200+ years later we are still helping artists and going strong. The Committee would meet eight times a year with ten or more council members, mainly artists with some commercial art members such as myself in attendance also. I sat opposite or near Mary for the next ten years or more and if I close my eyes I can still hear her rich, gentle and mellow speaking voice, just the sort of voice that suits fairy tales read aloud. Mary had been on the council for years when I joined, and she was happily enjoying a well-deserved revival of fortunes. Back in 1989 the art market was enjoying a real high point. It was a ‘bonkers’ market for art which lasted until November 1990 when it finally ‘tanked’.

mary fedden tuscan terrace

Mary Fedden
Tuscan Terrace, signed and dated 1956, oil on canvas,
50 x 76 cms
Sold £27,500 July 2010 ( estimate £20-30,000)

Mary was showing her work in an exhibition in a gallery in Cork Street. On the opening day lines of people had begun forming up outside the gallery from the early morning, all trying to be first in to buy. Part of the reason for this was Mary’s insistence that her prices should be attractive, ie low so as to ensure success, so the pictures were all priced between £300 and £600, which for the commercially minded collector in the queue outside represented an immediate profit on the current auction prices; hence the feeding frenzy … I remember buyers were limited to no more than 3 pictures per person! On or around Mary’s 90th birthday in 2005 I managed to get her in for a boardroom lunch I was hosting at Christie’s, at which she told me a little more about her life and career.

mary fedden my things

Mary Fedden
My Things, signed, oil on canvas, 101x 162 cms.
Sold twice, first in June 2006 for £30,000 and again in 2008 for £103,250 !!

She had married fellow artist Julian Trevelyan in 1951. It was his second marriage and her first, and as was the convention back then, Mary almost entirely parked her painting career and ambitions not long after they married. At the time it was not thought appropriate to compete with one’s husband in a marriage between painters.

mary fedden Julian Trevelyan

Mary Fedden
Mary’s husband Julian Trevelyan by the Thames, signed, oil on board, painted in 1978,
78 x 68 cms sold for £19,200 in Nov 2007.

Julian became President of the RA and died in 1988 and so 1989 marked the first year Mary felt able to ‘go for it’ as it were. She had not stopped painting in the intervening years, she had just stopped selling. Her pricing was probably still stuck in the fifties also! Her accountant told her that in 1989 she earned as much in that one year as she had earned since getting married in 1951 and 1988!

mary fedden julian in the greenhouse

Mary Fedden
Julian in the Greenhouse, signed and dated 1986, oil on canvas, 50 x 40 cms
Sold £ 25,000 July 2015 ( estimate £8-12,000)

The appeal of Mary’s work is universal and immediate and private collectors loved and admired it back then and still do now. Also, for me Mary’s work is unique to her and she does not owe anything to or follow any school of painting, making her work recognisable and attractive.

mary fedden white Mary Fedden, The White Umbrella , signed, oil on canvas, 91 x 101 cms. Sold Nov 2007 for £48,000 ( estimte 30-50,000)umbrella

Mary Fedden,
The White Umbrella , signed, oil on canvas, 91 x 101 cms.
Sold Nov 2007 for £48,000 ( estimte 30-50,000)

Mary’s prices rocketed, albeit from a low base in the late 80’s, so her confidence grew and grew, and her prices have remained strong continuing to gain ground today. Mary was a delight to know and she lived and loved to paint.

mary fedden tabbys dinner

Mary Fedden
Tabby’s dinner, signed, oil on canvas, 40 x 50 cms.
Sold June 2007 for £22,000 (estimate £6-8,000)

When she was no longer able to travel, she painted at home in Hammersmith using postcards of her old paintings as source material. I have unashamedly chosen some of my favourite pictures for this piece and you can buy her work at the Portland Gallery in London, who also take great care looking after her estate and artistic legacy.