Jehan Daly

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The Independent Online

>Jehan Emile Daly, artist and teacher: born Llanelly, Carmarthenshire 18 January 1918: died Canterbury, Kent 10 October 2001.

When some years ago Jehan Daly was told by his fellow artist John Ward that a mutual friend, an elderly lady in Hereford, had been abandoned by her family and must rely on the care of social services, Daly insisted that he would look after her and away he went. He stayed for about a year.

"Jehan was shrewd enough to realise that as well as loving kindness she needed a good row or a bit of excitement," says Ward.

He would take her off in a wheelchair for a bit of shoplifting. She would nick something, which would make her day. She came of a well-known local family and local shopkeepers probably knew what was going on, but took no notice.

To anyone only knowing of Daly as a rare and reclusive artist this story comes as a surprise. Over many years, those lucky enough to find his work in occasional mixed and solo shows realised that here was a very particular talent. "He wasn't interested in public recognition and had to be bullied to show at the Royal Academy," says Ward, who considers that Daly's tiny studies are to be compared with the immaculate little pastels of the 18th-century Swiss master Jean Etienne Liotard.

Jehan Daly – "Jehan", pronounced John, is medieval French in origin – was born in Llanelly, Carmarthenshire, in 1918. His father, William, was of Irish and his mother of French descent. Daly spoke good French and in his youth was fond of staying with an aunt in France.

William Daly was Principal of Kidderminster School of Art. Jehan studied with him, then from 1937 joined the Royal College of Art, where he met his lifelong friend Ward, already there for a year. Gilbert Spencer, brother of Stanley, was their painting professor, "but he had no influence on Jehan. Spencer recognised that they were both oddities, and they got on because of that." Daly's taste ranged from the early Italians through to the then unfashionable Edward Burne-Jones and he and Ward shared a passion for the drawings of Ingres:

No one ever really influenced Jehan and his remarkable work didn't change. I have early drawings made in France that are very mature that amaze me. He never did student things. Even at that stage, his work could go on the wall anywhere.

On 17 October 1939, Daly and Ward enlisted in the Royal Engineers. The uncommissioned Daly made a good soldier, and was a fine shot. He served widely abroad in the Eighth Army:

The Army was a challenge to Jehan, who was very patriotic, never minded a fight and would square up to anyone. Years after, we would correspond on the day we joined up, Jehan maybe sending a book with military connotations.

Demobilisation saw him back at the Royal College. Ward was there, too. From 1946 to 1950, they shared accommodation and a studio in Fulham. Daly got on well with the locals around Kempson Road. Ward remembers Daly's "wonderful drawings of an old dear who had been an actress, who turned up to do a bit of cleaning".

Daly cobbled together a living teaching at Wimbledon and St Martin's, selling the odd picture and illustrating for a magazine called Housewife. He was successful in mixed shows at Wildenstein's and would be given small solo exhibitions at Agnew's, where Evelyn Joll was an admirer.

When Ward married and moved away, Daly kept on their flat at £5 a week. Eventually, he was offered the house for £2,000, but the thought of owning it alarmed him, so he continued to rent until new owners tried to remove him. The case to answer, that he had been carrying on a business in domestic premises, came before a judge. To the prosecution's amazement, Joll, Ward and Humphrey Brooke, the Royal Academy Secretary, all turned up for the defence. The judge found for Daly, saying that his drawing was no more an infringement than a lawyer taking home his briefs.

Eventually, a tribunal raised the rent too much for him. He moved to Hastingleigh, Kent, to digs with Phyllis Graham, niece of the painter Sir William Nicholson. He continued teaching part-time, but eventually incapacitating diabetes was diagnosed.

A final refuge, for many years, was provided by the former businessman and painter Colin George, who had a spare lodge at Adisham, near Canterbury. George made this freely available plus a small pension, in return for the pictures that Daly slowly and painstakingly produced.

Upright and over six feet tall, Daly was noticeable around Canterbury. When Ward was painting the portrait of the Chancellor of the University of Kent, Daly was mentioned. "Oh yes, I know of him," said the sitter. "You don't forget when you see men like that. There are so few distinguished-looking people about nowadays."

Unwelcome events conspired to make Daly more reclusive. A bicycle he had been lent was stolen. He was burgled and furniture and a toy train he was drawing were taken. Arthritis decreased his mobility. This was hard for a man who had been a gifted sportsman, a passionate cricketer and rugby player. He continued keenly to watch cricket and football.

With Ward living nearby, Daly was encouraged to exhibit with the East Kent Art Society. Ward's picture The East Kent Art Club, with Daly prominent, was included in the artist's retrospective at Agnew's in 1990. It is owned by the Royal Museum and Art Gallery, Canterbury, where the society holds its annual November show.

Through Ward, the younger artist John Sergeant came to know Daly's work. This might be of a few apples or the sort of things you would turn out of a pocket, a matchbox or a pipe:

At first, I didn't recognise his strange, sensitive, quiet and small pictures as drawing. It gave me an enormous shock. John explained them to me, because I was still too crude in my taste to see how remarkable and rare they were.

They need looking at very hard. With a stub of pencil he would sit and look, and look, and look, then make a couple of marks. There was not much there, but what was there was enormously telling, coming from a tremendous perception.

In 1994, Sergeant was proud to share a show at Hazlitt Gooden & Fox with Daly and Ward. Recognition was growing. Daly had the year before had a solo exhibition at Martyn Gregory's gallery, followed by another in 1997. In a catalogue, John Sergeant wrote that, over the years Daly, "by the example of his drawings and his integrity, quite unknowingly became my conscience".

David Buckman

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