Obituary : Joan Warburton

Click to follow
The Independent Online
There was a hectic brightness about Joan Warburton and her painting which set her apart. She was physically imposing: tall and blonde with a fondness for red lipstick. She stood out in company as much for her laughter as for handsome Nordic looks. She will be remembered for her paintings of still life and landscape, rendered with a precision which lent an exotic otherworldliness to her vision.

Her family background seemed infertile ground for an artist. Her father retired from the Army in 1921, the year after Joan was born, to the outskirts of Colchester, moving further into the countryside in 1925. She was sent to hunt balls, sherry parties, a finishing school in Belgium, and presented at Court. The desired effect was not achieved. The finishing school introduced her to the atelier of Oswald Poreau, where she realised that painting was something she wished to take seriously.

Back home, the local doctor, a family friend, introduced her to Cedric Morris and Arthur Lett-Haines. These two established artists had just founded the East Anglian School of Painting in Dedham, and Joan Warburton enrolled in 1937, remaining a student until the school closed after the outbreak of war in 1940. She cited these two men, and their friend the painter and designer Allan Walton, as the influences which changed the course of her life and way of looking at the world.

Morris, who was the subject of a Tate Gallery exhibition in 1984, was the principal of the school, but left the organisation of it to his fellow artist and partner Lett-Haines. The school was much more than a mere education system; Morris intended it to be "an oasis of decency for artists outside the system". The character of the place was informed by the preoccupation of the proprietors: Morris was a passionate gardener and plantsman, Lett- Haines a superb cook and raconteur. It was a setting in which Warburton flourished, introducing her to a new circle of artists: John Banting, Algernon Newton, Henry Rushbury, Blair Hughes-Stanton and Allan Walton. She became a confirmed horticultural enthusiast and her skills in this area were later to provide her with rich subject matter for her painting.

The war brought this all to an end with the closure of the school. Warburton joined the WRNS, worked in an arms factory and as an ambulance driver in the Red Cross. With this she achieved true independence from her family, and in 1945 she met and married Peter O'Malley.

They started married life in a bedsitter in Harcourt Terrace, Chelsea. Their years in London were happy ones. Peter taught ceramics at the Royal College for 19 years, and Joan (known as Maudie) had three exhibitions during the period. They had firm friends living in the artist community: Basil and Karin Jonzen, Kenneth Armitage and Jo Moore, Freddie Gore and Robert Buhler; there were also occasional and not always welcome visits from the exuberant but outlandish Roberts Colquhoun and MacBryde. She illustrated a cookery column by Elizabeth David and exhibited in mixed exhibitions such as the Royal Academy, Leicester Galleries and Women's International. Above all, she relished the anonymity which London was able to confer, and mourned its loss when they returned to live in "Cedric country", at Stoke-by-Nayland, in Suffolk, when Peter retired in 1969.

Back problems had by this time caused her to give up oil painting, which seemed to exacerbate the condition. She nevertheless worked with great energy in watercolour and gouache, mounting 12 exhibitions from 1975, the last at Sally Hunter Fine Art in April this year.

Joan Warburton, artist: born Edinburgh 17 April 1920; married 1945 Peter O'Malley (died 1994; one son); died Stoke-by-Nayland, Suffolk 30 July 1996.