Mary Fedden & English Surrealism

Mary Fedden, who died at ninety plus was one of our most beloved artists. Her art makes people feel happy.  “I don’t know why,” she admited.  “But it does.”

Most of us have found ourselves at art shows or galleries drawn to one of her quiet still lifes.  It could be of sheep standing stunned in a frozen, silent, graveyard or fish lying on a platter, stiff like bodies in a morgue.  But mostly we find tables, picnic tables, kitchen tables,  round tables full of an odd assortment of familiar objects in vivid red, greens and yellows, and the ever-present black and white,.  The recurring lemons in Fedden’s paintings are a sour yellow you can smell from across the room.

Fedden was married to Julian Trevelyan, who was involved with Surrealism in England.  He taught her to paint with her imagination, not just with her eyes.  The English Surrealists were concerned with the strangeness of the objets trouves, put together in disturbing or humourous ways.  French surrealist Ducasse describes the chance meeting of “a sewing-machine and an umbrella.”  Fedden’s chance meetings usually take place on a table placed before a windowsill.  They don’t strike you as odd at first, it’s only when you look a second time.  Then you notice quinces, volcanoes, a fishing boat, feathers and a zebra turning up together for some imaginary event.

Fedden trained at the Slade School of Fine Art, where Stanley Spenser, Paul Nash, Roger Hilton, and Patrick Heron studied.  She taught at the Royal College of Art in the ‘60s when bright stars of the art world such as David Hockey were studying there.  She has described other artists as leading her into new ways of seeing things.  She admires the work of fellow countrymen Joanna Carrington, Winifred Nicholson, and Elizabeth Blackadder, and William Scott.

Fedden can make us remember a wintry scene of sheep in the snow, or a bowl of speckled gulls eggs beside white lilies in a cider jug.  These domestic scenes and familiar objects stir our memory, and we take pleasure as with a chance encounter with of old friends.

— Mrs M

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  • Mary Fedden