Obituary: Nan Youngman

Nancy Mayhew Youngman, artist: born Maidstone, Kent 28 June 1906; OBE 1987; died Cambridge 17 April 1995.

Nan Youngman is remembered primarily as a painter, but her life was a selfless, vigorous crusade for art through education. From before the war to the mid-1960s she was an influential figure in art education, as a teacher, an author and an impressively efficient organiser of exhibitions.

She was born in Maidstone in 1906 and trained at the Slade (1924-27). Needing to finance her career as an artist by teaching, she went on to the London Day Training College. There she was taught by Marion Richardson, who introduced her to Roger Fry and awakened her interest in children's art. From 1929 until 1944 she divided her time between painting and teaching; she lectured for the London County Council (LCC), gave practical art classes for schoolteachers and taught part-time. The organisation of exhibitions became an important part of her strategy for increasing children's awareness of art.

The death of her friend the artist Felicia Browne in Spain in 1936 altered Youngman's political outlook. She joined the left-wing Artists International Association and organised Browne's memorial exhibition. AIA group shows became a focus for her painting, though politics never entered her own work. It was Nan Youngman who in 1939 famously asked a workman in from the Whitechapel High Street to open the AIA's exhibition ``Art for All''.

With the outbreak of war Youngman was evacuated with the children of Highbury Hill School where she was teaching to Huntingdon. With Betty Rea, the sculptor, Rea's two boys, and three children of a friend in the army, she set up house, first in Godmanchester and later at Papermills in Cambridge. In 1944 she became art adviser to Cambridgeshire under Henry Morris. Standards of art education in schools in the region have never been so good, before or after.

Nan Youngman was chairman of the Society for Education through Art (1945), and published her ideas in articles for Athene (the SEA journal), the New Era in Home and School, and the Education Journal. Through the SEA she initiated a remarkable series of exhibitions of contemporary art for sale to education authorities called ``Pictures for Schools''. The first took place in 1947 at the Victoria and Albert Museum and these continued annually at the Whitechapel and elsewhere until 1969. They were a great success, regularly covered in the national press.

In the 1950s Youngman travelled as lecturer in art education for the British Council to the West Indies, Malta and Ghana, but now devoted more time to painting. She showed at the Leicester Galleries in 1953. Through setting up a Welsh series of Pictures for Schools exhibitions Youngman discovered the landscape of south Wales, which provided the subject of much of her strongest work. From 1950 to 1960 she made frequent visits to Wales, where, amid the smoke and mechanical uniformity of the housing in the Rhondda valley, Youngman's eye isolated people, especially children playing as if in paradise.

After she moved to the Fens in the mid-1960s her landscapes grew in subtlety, most often focusing on something puzzling or odd: always ``image'' and never topography. Apparently straightforward images of buildings or objects (beach huts, pigeon lofts, boats) are charged with spirit. In a strange way they are like an inversion of the stories of metamorphosis in classic painting: these are artefacts from the post-industrial landscape which bristle with human potential.

Nan Youngman's very individual painting defies conventional categorisation. The warmth and concern for others that characterised her educational career features strongly, but other qualities appear too, especially her wit. A popular retrospective was held at Kettle's Yard in Cambridge in 1986. Her OBE followed in 1987.

Her letters were full of her love of life and always contained a joke or funny sketch. She made everybody laugh. Every studio visit ended with her saying ``Let's go and have a drink''. In life, as in her pictures, she looked always outwards. In recent weeks, unwell and unable to see properly, she never complained about her own physical problems and, if asked, moved rapidly on to ask about her visitor. Characteristically she left instructions that her send-off include champagne and a sit-down lunch for her many friends.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the world's leading suppliers and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness