Obituary: Peter Greenham

Peter George Greenham, artist, born 9 September 1909, ARA 1951, RA 1960, Keeper of the Royal Academy Schools 1964-85, CBE 1978, married 1964 Jane Dowling (one son, one daughter), died Oxford 11 July 1992.

PETER GREENHAM was a figurative painter of great distinction. His work was always based with conviction on traditional practices; it was both scholarly and sensitive and, like himself, totally without showiness or pretension.

In a period when portrait-painting seemed to be at its lowest ebb, his portraits stood out for their beauty of touch, their grasp of form, their sympathetic characterisation. His sitters came to know that the first sitting could mean the start of a long process, sometimes, indeed, to be measured in years; but also that the result would have its own individual beauty, quite unlike any other painter's. Portraits, however, were only part of his output, though he remained fascinated by the challenge of the human head and the relationship between artist and sitter all his life. His small landscapes and seascapes show the same sensitive touch in a more relaxed format, and with a more liberated enjoyment of luminous colour.

The word 'sensitive' can be over-used in the context of English painting, and can imply merely a certain weak charm. Nothing could be further from the truth in Greenham's case. There was always a foundation of searching and vigorous drawing under that subtle touch. He was, indeed, to many people one of the finest draughtsmen of recent times. He had studied under Ernest Jackson at the Byam Shaw school, and held to the principles of Jackson's teaching of drawing all his life. To watch him draw or paint was an eye-opening experience for students. From the most summary of beginnings the form was built up with apparently tentative touches, the contours established, lost and then found again, gradually developing towards a greater precision of statement; in a painting, the tonal relationships and colour emerged similarly from slight indications. Even after many sittings it was always remarkable to see how the surface of his painting remained fresh and lively.

Greenham was elected to the Royal Academy in 1960. He was always devoted to the institution serving as Keeper from 1964 until his retirement in 1985. The Keeper has the responsibility of running the RA Schools, and Greenham showed himself to have great sympathy and understanding for the students. He ran the schools in a manner which appeared relaxed but which actually depended on stronglyheld convictions, for example of the importance of life drawing - this at a time when other art schools were busily abandoning traditional methods. But these principles never prevented him from showing sympathy with students of all persuasions, with the revolutionary as well as the academic, and gaining the affection and respect of them all; and this could be said equally of his professional colleagues.

To see him, a slighty dishevelled but always sympathetic figure, in the Schools corridor or in the foyer of Burlington House, in deep conversation with a student or a fellow painter was to see someone in his element. Perhaps one should say in his second element, for the studio is always the painter's first; but painting is a solitary activity and Peter Greenham had, in spite of a dislike for 'occasions', a warm and humorous sociability, the humour often of a self-deprecatory kind; no one enjoyed more than he did the gossip, the anecdotes, and the play of individuality and character to be found in an institution such as the RA.

Before becoming an artist, he had taken an English degree at Oxford, and had made a living for a time as a schoolmaster. He loved words as well as paint; he was exceptionally well-read and wrote the English language beautifully. He published only one book, on Velazquez, in 1969; but his shorter articles, even his annual Keeper's reports for the RA, were carefully considered small pieces of prose with incisive turns of phrase, and had no doubt been written and rewritten many times, just as his paintings were continually reworked until they satisfied his eye.

He married the painter Jane Dowling, for whose work he always had the greatest admiration. Their marriage was a devoted one, and a real partnership of two artists where each was able to bring something to the other's work.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
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: HR Manager

£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before