OBITUARY:Stephen Boyd

Stephen Boyd, together with his lifelong partner, Philip Graham, ran a gallery in London which specialised in the male figure, a genre which most art galleries refused and an unfamiliar area of art history. The gallery was courageous in the work it showed, and diligent in searching out and promoting art by young, adventurous and gifted artists.

At Sherborne School, Boyd developed his musical skills, becoming an accomplished pianist and organist. At Durham University he studied archaeology and theology, undecided then which to make his career. In the event he rejected both, and moved into the retail trade; he worked first for Harrods before moving on for a productive period with Terence Conran at Habitat, then in its heady early days, attracted by the idea of a retail business which efficiently sold well-designed objects at reasonable cost. An interest in antiques, in particular 18th- and early 19th-century ceramics, led Boyd and Graham to open a shop in Somerset in the late 1970s, and in the mid-1980s they moved to St Judes, a tiny shop and basement in Kensington Church Street, which became one of London's leading ceramic specialists.

With an interest in visual art, they became aware of a gap in the market, as most art galleries refused to show images of the male figure. Gradually ceramics gave way to figurative art, with the gallery specialising in Old Master and academic drawings of the male figure, many done in the 19th century, as well as work by living artists. With no financial backing, it was always a high-risk endeavour, but both partners were totally committed to the project.

Their exhibition programme was varied and imaginative. As well as the male nudes, there were exhibitions of delightful, but little-known drawings by Cecil Beaton, and studies of the male figure by Keith Vaughan, introducing the work of these distinguished artists to a new audience. The majority of the shows featured the work of young or lesser-known painters. Over the years, these included the delicate, sensitive water-colours of David Hutter and the fresh, bold and sexy oils of Philip Core. Notable artists showing in a gallery for the first time included Peter Samuelson, Gavin Marghfling and Stuart Bullen.

Sadly, St Judes closed in 1993, but in the last few years Boyd was able to make a memorable visit to the Bayreuth Festival, and to travel down the Nile on a barge. His humanist concerns, his wry humour, but above all his devotion to art concerned with the qualities of the human spirit in all its diversity, have left a lasting mark on the London art scene, opening up fresh areas of interest, and confronting much of the prejudice around the figurative work. Boyd was a pioneer who was fearless in fighting to promote the art and artists in which he believed.

Small in stature and with a wiry figure, Stephen Boyd was a fighter, both in the way he worked for and persisted in the schemes he thought important, and in his battle against encroaching poor health and physical incapacity brought on by Aids-related illness.

Stephen Boyd, art dealer: born Sutton, Surrey 17 September 1946; died London 18 May 1995.

Comments