Obituary: Jean Clark

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The Independent Culture
THE STRONG figurative paintings of Jean Clark were regularly seen hanging at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition during the years immediately following the Second World War. Gaining inspiration from her west London environs, her 1950 exhibits Hammersmith Market and Royal Tennis Court at Hampton Court Palace showed the strength of her early training at the Royal Academy Schools.

The RA Schools in the early 1920s, under the watchful eyes of Charles Sims and Ernest Jackson, were a rare venue for a romance. It was here that Jean Wymer first met her future husband Cosmo Clark.

Jean's maternal grandfather, John Spreckley Cuthbert, based in Chelsea, had been an artist of some repute, who was responsible for the Albert Memorial mosaics and a pioneer in the art of medical drawing. Jean left school in 1914, aged 12, for full-time study at her local art school in Sidcup, Kent. She applied to the RA Schools at the age of 16.

Too late for the entrance examination, she was initially refused a place. She then called on Charles Sims personally and explained that she would have to give up painting if not accepted. Jean's charm was renowned; her portfolio was submitted and she was awarded a place. Her teachers included the redoubtable Sir George Clausen, who made a habit of assisting his students with their work, particularly if the student was an attractive young lady. The work she submitted for her final diploma contained, she said, "touches of Clausen".

In her first term she met a senior gold medallist student, Cosmo Clark. A survivor of the trenches, he had won a Military Cross for courage in the field when a Captain in the 13th Middlesex Regiment, and had returned to painting at the RA Schools after five years' active service. "We got to know each other," Jean remembered, "stroking the academy cat." They were married in 1924 and following the General Strike of 1926 decided to seek their fortune in America. They tramped the streets of New York calling on publishers with only a modicum of success.

This served as a prelude to life in the studio and home the Clarks established in Hammersmith. Their friends and neighbours included much of the literary and artistic cognoscenti of the riverside area. Eric Kennington, Gertrude Hermes, Blair Hughes-Stanton, Oleg Polunin, A.P. Herbert, Naomi Mitchison and the oboist Leon Goossens were regular callers. One day, at Kennington's studio, Jean found him planning a sculpted head of T.E. Lawrence. He remarked that her forehead was almost identical to Lawrence's and persuaded her to sit for him.

Jean Clark's own painting flourished and she began to exhibit at the Royal Academy, the New English Art Club and other venues. She was commissioned to work on murals at the Cutlers' Hall, Sheffield, and in the City of London at the Bankers' Clearing House and Carpenters' Hall, as well as at churches in London and Somerset. In 1931 whilst in Broadstairs, Kent, she happened to meet an elderly bearded man who was none other than Walter Sickert. He was running a small art school, where she worked for a time, making copious notes as he taught.

During the Second World War she accompanied her husband to Leamington Spa, where he was Deputy Chief Camouflage Officer, and they settled in the village of Oxhill. She organised the villagers into arduous but fruitful land work and still found time to paint figure compositions and portraits in an open barn. After the war, Cosmo was elected to the Royal Academy and both husband and wife became members of the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolours and the New English Art Club.

Most years, they travelled in Britain, France, Spain or Russia, returning laden with new work. Following Cosmo's death in 1967 Jean Clark moved to the village of Shottisham, Suffolk. She designed and painted the village sign, a task she would undertake several times during the next quarter of a century. She was rightly proud of her wonderful garden, which surrounded her home in converted workers' cottages. There her early figurative painting was succeeded by delightful pastoral watercolours and perceptive portraits, both watercolour and oil, of her family, friends and neighbours.

Jean Manson Wymer, artist: born Sidcup, Kent 6 August 1902; married 1924 Cosmo Clark (died 1967; one daughter); died Saxtead, Suffolk 29 March 1999.