Obituary: Julia Phelps

Julia Marion Phelps, artist, born Blandford Forum Dorset 3 August 1948, died London 16 February 1993.

JULIA PHELPS's strain of individuality was highly prized by her teachers at the Royal College of Art, Ruskin Spear and Carel Weight. It had a depth to it few could match, for she came from remarkable stock. The Phelps family were boat-builders at Fulham and Putney, Royal Watermen, Bargemen to the Livery Companies and 10 of them winners of the Doggett's Coat and Badge. Justifiably proud of her family, she felt by winning her place at college as a painter of sculling and of the Thames she was contributing in a new way to her family's 400-year reputation.

Phelps's earlier training at Harrow School of Art suited her: Ken Howard and Charles Bartlett encouraged her to draw and paint her own environment in small tonal studies. Many of her works at her RCA Degree show revealed almost bird's-eye-like views from bridges down on the water with a pair or more scullers skimming past. This approach made of her work a painterly pattern. The freshness of this style, she said, showed 'the youthful freedom of painting at College'. In the outside world, rather than continue in this almost decorative manner, Phelps took more of the mood of change on the Thames itself to heart.

Having to earn her living and satisfy commissions which often had a rigorous topographical base, her style hardened. Maturity brought a Paul-Maitland-like tonal quality to her work. Drawing enhanced by the use of watercolour or of oil paints came to the fore. In her large canvases such as that for the Fishmongers' Company she shows decline and change on the Thames. The bulk of great structures demolished on the banks of the river, the mud banks exposed and a scattering of gulls revealed a new set of truths to her. Such works were recognised with prizes at the 'Spirit of London' exhibitions held by the GLC at the Festival Hall.

Besides private galleries, she showed at the Society of Women Artists and in the 'Open' exhibition of the Royal Watercolour Society. The many years of working on large individual pieces prevented her having one-person shows, and a certain amount of full-time teaching robbed her ultimately of too much painting time. In the limited length of an evening class she could enjoy herself and instruct freely.

Invitations from the Secretary of the Henley Royal Regatta had given Phelps freedom to paint at that event. Over the last five years it created the material for many of her later paintings, and the crisp style of her maturity regained a sense of wit and irony. The Dyers' Company Lunch break for the Swan Uppers, Henley draws together many elements in her work. Like many a landscape painter she found development in this genre a slow and meditative business.

Julia Phelps had openness and optimism, ever sympathetic, never demonstrative. The companion of the last 20 years of her life was Alan Musker.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower