Obituary: Nan Youngman
Friday 28 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.
arts + entsThere were towering ideas, some scintillating performances and revelatory grooves... our writers pick out their personal highlights
elephant appealThe first 23 lots in our charity auction have now gone. But there are 22 more still up for grabs
elephant appealPrince William signs up for our charity appeal
peoplePrepare to be entranced by worms as the molecular biologist gets ready to give the Royal Institution science lectures
elephant appealSo says man jailed for cutting off dead elephant's tusks
booksWe examine the best titles for teens
voicesPeople moan that Christmas is too commercial, the spirit lost. But it is a time to over-indulge, and always has been, says DJ Taylor
scienceResearchers teach border collie to understand sentences using more than 1,000 words
booksA Christmas story in six parts
travelWill high-value tourism help the workshops of this Renaissance city?
food + drinkA trifle without custard? Surely not! Nonsense – and here’s three to finish your festive meal that prove it
Geoffrey Macnab does not like the comedian's big screen debut
Latest in News
Tom Daley ‘is gay because his father died’ says UK evangelist
Iain Duncan Smith leaves Commons food banks debate early
David Cameron takes his biggest gamble yet as he gets tough on Europe over immigration
Kiss and yell: Italian protester charged with sexual assault after kissing riot police officer
Anachronistic and iniquitous, grammar schools are a blot on the British education system
Scientists ‘incredibly concerned’ for fate of banana as plagues and fungus infections spread across world’s supplies
- 1 Tim Sherwood challenges Daniel Levy to set out vision for Tottenham Hotspur’s future
- 2 French pub fined €9,000 after customers returned empties to bar - because it's 'undeclared labour'
- 3 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 4 #Teamnigella: It’s the only side to be on
- 5 Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber is 'retiring from music'
- < Previous
- Next >
£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Geography ...
Competitive: Nielsen: We are seeking an enthusiastic intern with a passionate ...
£23 - £30 per hour: Morgan Hunt: A fantastic opportunity has arisen within a c...