Obituary: Aubrey Davidson-Houston
Friday 30 June 1995
Every morning, right up until his death at the age of 89, Aubrey Davidson- Houston set out from his home in Esher and was in his studio in London by 7am. He began as an artist by painting fellow prisoners-of-war in a camp in Germany and became a portraitist of public figures including the Queen, the Prince of Wales and Enid Blyton. He was noted for his painting of hands, so often perfunctorily painted, but so indicative of people's character and pastimes.
Davidson-Houston was educated at St Edward's School, Oxford (of which he later became a governor) and Sandhurst. His father, Lt-Col Wilfred Davidson-Houston, was abroad governing Monserrat and St Lucia and Aubrey spent his school holidays in Sussex. He passed out of Sandhurst with a prize cadetship and, because of his Sussex connections, was commissioned in 1925 into the Royal Sussex Regiment, attaching himself later to duties in Australia and Nigeria.
His war was brief - he was captured covering the retreat to Dunkirk in 1940. He was moved from camp to camp and eventually transferred to Oflag 7B. He made one unsuccessful escape attempt and, once the Germans had been persuaded there was nothing subversive about sending drawings of prisoners home to their families, he spent the next five years painting his 700 fellow inmates.
After the war he secured a place at the Slade School of Fine Art at roughly the same time as being given the chance of commanding a battalion. Painting or promotion? His wife made it simple. Did he want to be a soldier or an artist? He went on to win the Anatomy Prize at the Slade.
As a result of his first and only one-man exhibition, in 1953 at Walker's Gallery in Bond Street, he received a commission to paint the Queen, and his career as a portrait painter was launched.
His other royal commissions included the Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen Mother and the Duchess of Kent. He also painted the musical comedy star Marjorie Browne and Lord Harding, Field Marshal Sir Francis Festing and Dr Mortimer, Bishop of Exeter.
In appearance round, pink and beaming, Aubrey Davidson-Houston was the most charming of men. He enjoyed the company of his sitters, and had no difficulty with talking, listening and painting at the same time - a skill learned as a POW in Germany. His manners were perfect and he took as much trouble with duchesses as he did with four-year-olds. He made the most of his life and did not waste the talent that was given him.
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