Mary Fedden

Still life with pansies and onion

Oil on board: 12(h) x 16.3(w) in /

30.5(h) x 41.3(w) cm

Signed and dated lower left: Fedden 1991

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BV 171



Bristol 1915 – 2012 London


Still life with pansies and onion


Signed and dated lower left: Fedden 1991

Oil on board: 12 x 16 ¼ in / 30.5 x 41.3 cm

Frame size: 19 x 23 ¼ in / 48.3 x 59.1 cm

In a Louis XIV style composition frame



Private collection, UK



The objects depicted in Still life with pansies and onion make light of the still life tradition’s formal tone. The lone onion in the foreground of the composition stands proudly on the steep, slanting tabletop, flanked by the intricately patterned mug and pansies. It is a playful nod to the European masters who experimented with still life in the early twentieth-century, such as Georges Braque (1882–1963) and Henri Matisse (1869–1954) (whom Fedden cited as influences), but it is also a recognition of the strong visual syntax Fedden forged as an artist through which she persistently elevated the familiar. Fedden’s favoured genre was the still life and her characteristic modesty her use of vivid colour and blended textures, permits her to reimagine the traditional subject with an uncomplicated affection. She even dubbed her characterful treatment of paint, her ‘handwriting’ and remained firm in the belief that her hand was different and recognisable in its touch.


Christopher Andreae describes how Fedden was inspired by many different forms of visual material, including: ‘paintings by other artists, postcards, illustrations in books, and advertisements’, and these sources shaped her practise, allowed her to approach her work with a sense of humour.[1] Just as Fedden made no great claims for the originality of her subject matter, she also chose to depict objects that define the everyday: for example, the domestic object. From teapots and jugs, to cups, lamps, bottles, fruits, flowers, plants and vegetables, she favoured subjects that represented the ordinary, such as the titular pansies and onion; and their roles remained longstanding throughout her career, becoming established as remarkably unvarying motifs.








Mary Fedden, Butterflies and fruit, 1990

Oil on canvas 49.5 x 74.5 cm

University of Warwick



Born in Bristol in 1915, Mary Fedden studied at the Slade School of Art in London from 1932 to 1936 and during the war painted sets for the Arts Theatre in Great Newport Street, London. At the end of the war, Fedden began to paint in earnest developing her own personal style which owed much to the influence of the French and Russian modernists.  In 1951 she married the British artist Julian Trevelyan and they devoted themselves to art and travel. Her paintings throughout the 1950s were greatly influenced by her husband and they collaborated on a number of occasions often being commissioned to paint murals together.


By the start of the 1960s, Fedden was beginning to formulate her own unique style using pure, vibrant colours. From 1958 to 1964 she was a tutor at the Royal College of Art where her pupils included David Hockney and Allen Jones, then from 1965 until 1970, she taught at the Yehudi Menuhin School at Cobham in Surrey.


Mary Fedden was best known for her bold, vivid still lifes and her colourful views of Italy and North Africa. Her work was touched by a unique naïveté and she will remain one of Britain’s best loved artists. She continued to work from the studio in Hammersmith that she shared with her husband (who died in 1988) well into her nineties.



Biographical Chronology


1915       Born in Bristol on 14th August

1932       Commenced studies at the Slade School of Art, London, where she was inspired by her

               tutor, Vladimir Polunin and met Julian Trevelyan for the first time

1936       Graduated from Slade School of Art, London and returned to her native Bristol

               to teach

1939-44  Moved to London and joined the Land Army and the Women’s Voluntary Service

1944       Called up and sent to Europe as a driver for the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes

1946       Returned to London, buying a house in Redcliffe Road with Maise Meiklejohn

1947       First one-woman exhibition at the Mansard Gallery in Heal’s Department Store, which

               led to a three year commission to paint the covers of Woman magazine

1949       Travelled through Europe with the artist Julian Trevelyan. On their return to London

they settled together in Trevelyan’s home and studio by the Thames at Durham Wharf,   


1951       Married Julian Trevelyan

   Painted a mural for the children’s section in the Television pavilion on the South Bank

   at the Festival of Britain

1958-64     Taught at the Royal College of Art, London where she was the first female tutor in the

               Painting School, her pupils including David Hockney, Allen Jones and Patrick


1961       Commissioned to paint a mural for the P&O liner Canberra

1965-70  Taught at the Yehudi Menuhin School, Surrey

1980       Painted mural for Charing Cross Hospital with Julian Trevelyan

1984-88  President of Royal West of England Academy, Bristol

1985       Painted a mural for Colindale Hospital

1988       Death of Julian Trevelyan

1992       Elected Royal Academician in the Senior Order

1995       Publication of Mary Fedden written by Mel Gooding 

1996       Received an Honorary Doctorate of Literature from the University of Bath

1997       Awarded OBE

2007       Publication of Mary Fedden. Enigmas and Variations by Christopher Andreae

2012       Died in Chiswick on 22nd June


Select Bibliography


Mel Gooding, Mary Fedden, Scolar Press, 1995

Christopher Andreae, Mary Fedden, Enigmas and Variations, Lund Humphries, 2007

José Manser, Mary Fedden and Julian Trevelyan: Life and Art by the River Thames, Unicorn Press Ltd, London, 2012


Illustrated books

Suzannah Amoore, Motley the Cat, Viking, London, 1997

Jane Gardam, The green man: an eternity, The Windrush Press, Moreton-in-Marsh, 1998

Mary Fedden with foreword by Mel Gooding, Birds, The Windrush Press, Moreton-in-Marsh,




[1] Mary Fedden, A Retrospective, exh cat, Portland Gallery, London, 2008, p.6

Modern BritishMary Fedden