Obituary: Raymond Coxon
Tuesday 18 February 1997
Born in 1896 at Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, he was the second child of five girls and two boys born to James and Georgina Coxon, who had herself had some art training. Educated locally at Leek High School, Raymond impressed his teachers with his drawing capability. While serving with the Cavalry in Palestine in the First World War, he took a tiny box of watercolours with him, and whenever he had an opportunity would send miniature-sized work home to his mother.
After the war he studied at Leeds College of Art from 1919 to 1921, where he met and became great friends with Henry Moore. In 1922 Coxon and Moore made their first visit to France and, thanks to an introduction from John Rothenstein, met Maillol and Bonnard. Later they were best men at each other's weddings. Coxon married Edna Ginesi, a fellow student at Leeds, who was Leeds-born but of Italian descent; the marriage was to last over 70 years.
After Leeds, Coxon went on to study at the Royal College of Art in London (1921-25), under Sir William Rothenstein (John's father). He always remembered Rothenstein's kindness to him and other students both at the college and at the Rothenstein home in Hampstead. Coxon's diploma work was a mural after Masaccio's Expulsion of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, in the Brancacci Chapel in Florence.
As a student he had little money but a terrific zest for living, putting drawing-pins in his shoes to spare him the cost of a cobbler and saving the threepenny tram fare by walking from Hammersmith to the Cafe Royal. The threepence saved enabled him to drink coffee all day and talk to "Gin" - his future wife - and other artists. Coxon used to say to me that this was "pure delight - we could mix with people there, famous or not, feeling that we were treated equally and not like poor relations; devoid of class distinction, it seemed that everybody had some quality."
In 1927 Raymond and Gin Coxon with Henry Moore and Leon Underwood formed the short-lived British Independent Society, and Coxon's work was illustrated in "Young British Drawing", in Drawing and Design. His first one-man exhibition took place the following year with the London Artists Association at the Cooling Galleries. He became a member of the London Group in 1931 and some of his paintings were bought by the Contemporary Art Society.
Cezanne was probably the most important influence on Coxon's early work, and his landscapes of Yorkshire's "green velvet hills" contrasted with the remoteness and majesty of North Wales, where he also painted, particularly Cwm Pennant in Brecon. In 1947, Raymond and Gin made their first visit to the United States and were inspired by the power of the canyon and the sense of "nature in the raw".
Back in London, living and working in Hammersmith, Coxon painted fellow artists and friends including a sensitive portrait of Henry Moore in 1924. Other notable portraits of friends in the Thirties and Forties were of Ceri Richards, Vivian Pitchforth and John Piper.
In 1936 Coxon had a one-man show at the Leicester Galleries and with Gin, Henry and Irina Moore visited Cadaques in Spain as the civil war broke out. In 1940-45 he was an official war artist, attached to the Navy; he held further one- man shows at the Leicester Galleries in 1940, 1947 and 1960.
I first met Raymond and Gin Coxon over 30 years ago - when they had both already been painting for more than 40 years. Their eyes always gave out a twinkle that was appreciative of a life that cannot have always been easy. They boasted a resilience and bluntness that epitomises the friendliness of the North, or "Yarkshire" as Sir John Rothenstein would refer to the county.
Gin's influence on Raymond was as strong as his love; a good painter herself, she was always prepared to push him forward to his advantage.
In 1985 he exhibited at the Michael Parkin Gallery, London, and was finally given a retrospective in 1987 at the City Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent.
Raymond Coxon, painter and muralist: born Hanley, Staffordshire 18 August 1896; married 1926 Edna Ginesi; died Rowfant, West Sussex 31 January 1997.
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