Adrian Ryan (1920–98)

Extracts from an obituary published on Saturday 19 December 1998 in The Independent… full version here.

Adrian Ryan was born in Hampstead, London and attended Eton College. He studied at the Slade School of Art from 1938–40 and later taught at Goldsmiths, while still living in Cornwall. His contemporaries at the Slade included Patrick Heron, Bryan Wynter, Paul Feiler and his future wife Peggy Rose, whom he married in 1941. In 1943 he had his first selling show at Redfern Gallery and forged close friendships around this time with Lucien Freud, Augustus John, John Minton and Sven Berlin. In 1962, he was elected Chair of the Newlyn Society of Artists and was a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy, with three works ‘on the line’ that same year. His friendship with Sven Berlin lasted a lifetime.

Ryan was never a slave to any particular style or movement: when given the choice to live at the farthest tip of Cornwall with his wife and two daughters in 1945, Ryan chose Mousehole over its more famous neighbour St Ives.

Although Ryan earned the respect of his peers, his style of figurative painting was out of step with the twentieth century appetite for modernism and St Ives-based abstract art. It has been said of Adrian Ryan that, by the age of twenty three he was handsome, rich and already quite well-known and by the age of sixty-three he had three wives, three daughters, no family fortune and was almost unheard of among the art buying public.

Ryan’s paintings, however, are present in regional and national collections including Manchester City Galleries, The Atkinson Southport, Tate, The Government Art Collection and the National Museum of Northern Ireland and there has been a steady rise in interest in his work over the past 10 years, including the publication of Julian Machin’s biography Adrian Ryan: A Rather Rum Life in 2009.

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