Edwin Greenman

Art-school principal and portrait painter

Friday 03 January 2014 02:23

Edwin Greenman, painter and teacher: born Beckenham, Kent 21 March 1909; Principal, Sir John Cass School of Art 1951-69; RP 1968; married 1942 Freda Johns (one son); died Epsom, Surrey 19 March 2003.

Edwin Greenman brought twin gifts to his career as an artist. As a teacher and administrator he oversaw the expansion of a notable London art school and helped streamline one of its oldest exhibiting societies. As a painter, he completed many notable portraits.

Ted Greenman lacked an artistic background, but each parent aided his career. He was born in 1909 in Beckenham, Kent, son of Edwin Greenman, a carpenter and furniture maker, and was one of four sons and two daughters. Drawing was Ted's childhood passion. Edwin made two blackboards, one for Ted, one for his sister Anne, placed on either side of the kitchen fire, on which they were encouraged to draw in chalk.

Ted became good enough to study at Beckenham School of Art, under Henry Carr. Significantly, Carr was also a fine painter of people, who won a Gold Medal at the Paris Salon, a member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and author of the 1952 manual Portrait Painting. Ted Greenman then attended the Royal College of Art, from 1929 to 1933, under the Principal Sir William Rothenstein. His teachers would include Gilbert Spencer, Ernest Tristram and Malcolm Osborne, the distinguished etcher and engraver. Greenman was runner-up for the Prix de Rome as an engraver.

While he was at the Royal College his father died, leaving his mother, Sophie, hard up. The family thought Greenman should give up his studentship and earn some money, but Sophie insisted he should stay on to earn his diploma.

When the Second World War began Greenman, a member of the Territorial Army, was enlisted but told to continue teaching. He became acting head of Guildford School of Art and at an evening class met his future wife, Freda, whom he married in 1942.

He was called up for the Royal Air Force, at Medmenham, in Buckinghamshire. In an atmosphere of secrecy, with other artists he made models based on reconnaissance photographs for bombing Germany. One project was a model of the Moehne Dam, facilitating its attack by Barnes Wallis's bouncing bomb during the Dam Busters raids.

Demobilised, Greenman returned to Guildford. While head of the department of drawing, painting and design there he was appointed Principal of Sir John Cass School of Art, in London. Over the period 1951-69, he oversaw enormous growth in the small school as it moved from site to site.

Students at Sir John Cass could learn many skills, ranging from drawing, painting and modelling from life through illustration and poster design; industrial design; fashion drawing; lettering; engraving; silversmithing; jewellery; diamond mounting; and stone and wood carving. Greenman made this possible by summoning practising artists to teach particular courses or parts of a course. Thus, students learned from those most qualified. He was keen to encourage those who had talent who might not otherwise become artists and ran many evening courses.

Greenman favoured the traditional disciplines. "In the 1960s, when the New Art might mean a Cadbury's Milk Tray box pinned to a canvas," recalls his son, Anthony, "my father was approached by a student who said: 'I want to be a proper artist, Mr Greenman. Will you teach me to draw and paint?' That is what he wanted to do all his life."

He chose to retire at 60, in 1969. The year before, he had been elected a member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters (RP). "He liked people and painting them was his great love," says Freda. "If he saw or met someone interesting, he would ask to paint them."

Settled at periods in Hampshire and West Sussex, Greenman could indulge his interest in landscape, going off for the day with the dog, working sketches up in his studio. Unlike many artists in this situation, he would chat at length to anyone interested. He also painted still life. "Ted loved painting white flowers," says Freda. "The various types of white intrigued him."

Greenman taught groups of amateurs in Chichester and Brighton, where his good-humour and attention to detail won over students. "My abiding memory of Mr Greenman is the way he told me the better way to hold my pencil," one lady student recalled.

As a commissioned portrait painter, Ted Greenman remained at his easel until his 90th year, sharing a London studio with the artist David Graham. Among notable subjects were Sir John Harvey-Jones, former chairman of Imperial Chemical Industries; Sir Lynton White, sometime chairman of Hampshire County Council; Lord Northbrook; Heather, the former wife of the conductor André Previn; the Windsor Herald; and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Collections holding Greenman's work include the Victoria & Albert Museum.

As honorary secretary, 1984-85, and honorary treasurer, 1985-89, Greenman helped modernise the RP. This year's RP exhibition at the Mall Galleries, 2-18 May, will commemorate him with a small group of his pictures. Notable are a portrait of his mother and a painting of Anthony as a small boy in the family garage-cum-studio. With its collection of late-1940s clutter, it displays Greenman's love of creating an ordered canvas from apparently disparate material.

David Buckman

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