Alan Wheatley Art

Ruskin Spear Artist Biography  British, 1911-1990

The artistic talent of Ruskin Spear was recognised from an early age with a series of scholarships. He went on to become a highly regarded portrait painter. His sitters ranged from distinguished figures in British society, such as John Betjeman and Laurence Olivier, to enigmatic characters he met in his local pubs in Hammersmith and Chiswick, London.

In the introduction to the catalogue of Ruskin Spear's retrospective exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1980, his friend the painter Robert Buhler remarked that ‘one could say that Ruskin Spear has done for Hammersmith what Sickert did for Camden Town’.

In spite of his growing reputation as a skilled painter, Ruskin Spear defended his status a 'working class cockney'. His view on life was well known: 'ars longa, vita brevis' – ‘painting, breathing, drinking’. Spear went on teach painting at the Royal College of Art, where he had studied as a young man.

Ruskin Spear first studied at Hammersmith School of Art, followed by the Royal College of Art where subsequently he was a tutor from 1948 to 1977.

During the Second World War (when he was exempt from military service because of the after-effects of childhood polio) he took part in the ‘Recording Britain’ scheme. At this time he played in various bands as he was an accomplished jazz pianist.

Characteristically his pictures are broadly brushed, with a spontaneous, improvisatory look. Less typical works include an altarpiece The Annunciation for the church of St .Clement Danes, London, replacing one destroyed in the Second World War and murals for the liner Canberra in 1959.

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