Liss Llewellyn Fine Art - 20th Century British Art

Mary Adshead (1904 - 1995)   BIOGRAPHY

English Harvest
Framed (ref: 7670)
Signed, titled and inscribed English Harvest British Restaurant, B.R. Granville St, BirminghamWatercolour 
Pencil and watercolour
10 1/2 x 11 in. (26.5 x 28 cm)


Exhibited: WW2 - War Pictures by British Artists, Morley College London, 28 October -23 November 2016, cat 114. 

Literature: Modern spaces: Mary Adshead's post-war murals and the promotion of mural painting by the SMP 1939-1965, by Melanie Unwin;
WW2 - War Pictures by British Artists, Edited by Sacha Llewellyn & Paul Liss, July 2016, cat 114, page 156.

This study relates to The World's Food mural, British Restaurant, Granville Street, Birmingham, 1942

Contrary to expectation, the Second World War provided fresh opportunities for mural painting and of a kind suited to the objectives of the Society of Mural Painters (SMP). Numerous British Restaurants, works and services canteens were opened all over the country that offered unrationed cooked meals to workers, who, after long shifts, were unable to deal with the queues and time-consuming practicalities of rationing. The restaurants were often housed in makeshift buildings. In an effort to make these utilitarian spaces more attractive, the Ministry of Food appointed a special art advisor, an initiative which led to artists being employed.

Adshead undertook murals in six canteens (for example Birmingham BR, Vauxhall Motors and St. Columba House, these enabled here, and other artists, to continue mural painting during the war when private work more or less vanished.

This Ministry of Food initiative had far reaching consequences. From it originated the increased popularity and appreciation of the mural as a legitimate means to enhance public spaces. This continued into the post-war period, reaching a high point with the Festival of Britain. It also validated the idea that sites for mural painting did not have to be permanent high status locations.

The use of mural decorations in wartime canteens was almost certainly inspired by the Tate Gallery's 1939 exhibition Mural Painting in Great Britain 1919-1939, and the formation of the SMP earlier that year.

The initial executive committee was made up of John Armstrong, Edward Bawden, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and Gilbert Spencer. Adshead was amongst the first to apply for membership.

The above text has been taken from Modern spaces: Mary Adshead's post-war murals and the promotion of mural painting by the SMP 1939-1965, by Melanie Unwin. quoted in 'Earthly Delights, Mary Adshead 1904-1995', edited by Ann Compton and Mathew H Clough.

We are grateful to Melanie Unwin, Ann Compton and Mathew H Clough for assistance.

Mary Adshead (1904 - 1995)

English mural painter and designer trained at The Slade where she won joint first prize with Rex Whistler in 1924. They both went on to work on their own murals at the Highways boys club in Shadwell. Many important mural commissions followed throughout her long life. She also designed UK postage stamps, illustrated books and exhibited easel pictures in at The New English Art Club and Royal Academy. Her paintings are in many public gallery collections including The Tate , The Graves Art gallery Sheffield, The Imperial War Museum, Manchester City Art Gallery The London Transport Museum and The University Art gallery Liverpool. There are also several surviving mural paintings. An exhibition of her work was held at The University of Liverpool Art Gallery 21 January till 29 April 2005, Graves Art Gallery Sheffield 25 Jun-17 Sept 2005 and Kingston-upon-Thames Art Gallery 1 Oct - 19 Nov 2005. An illustrated catalogue is available from The University of Liverpool Art Gallery. 6 Abercromby Sq. Liverpool L69 7WY.

See all works by Mary Adshead