Ruskin Spear, CBE, RA (30 June 1911 – 17 January 1990) was an English painter.
View the Ruskin Spear artwork collection below.
He was born in Hammersmith, London, and attended the local art school before going on to the Royal College of Art in 1930. He began his teaching career at Croydon School of Art, going on to teach at the Royal College of Art from 1948 to 1975.
Spear was influenced by Sickert and the Camden Town Group, and the portraiture of the Euston Road School. His work has a narrative quality, with elements of humour and gentle satire.
Ruskin Spear is one of Britain’s best loved artists of the twentieth century, he was a towering genius in the art of narrative painting and because he used a wheelchair due to childhood polio, much of his work focused on his immediate surroundings. He painted the citizens, (both human and feline) of Hammersmith relaxing in and around the local pubs, theatres and shops.
A retrospective of Spear’s work was held at the Royal Academy in 1980. His work is represented in the Tate Gallery Collection.
A large number of Spear’s paintings are held in important public collections, including the Government Art Collection, Arts Council England, National Portrait Gallery, Imperial War Museum and the Royal Academy of Arts.
He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1979.
Spear’s Grandson, Tim is currently developing a website dedicated to his Granfather’s life and work. It can be found here at ruskinspear.com
London Artists: Ruskin Spear (1911 – 1990)
24 October, 2011 by Mike Paterson
The National Portrait Gallery is my favourite art gallery in London. No matter how many times you go, there is always something you may not have paid attention to before which makes you go: Wow. Yesterday afternoon it was the portrait by Ruskin Spear of his fellow dauber, Francis Bacon.
I noticed that Spear was born in 1911. Hence, this year is the centenary of this most talented of 20th Century painters, and a good ol’ London boy to boot.
Ruskin Spear, RA was born on 30 June 1911 in Hammersmith. He won a scholarship to the Hammersmith School of Art at the age of 15 and a few years later another to the Royal College of Art. He was most influenced by Walter Sickert and the Camden Town Group. His career took off after his diploma show at the Royal College in 1934 although it was some time before he had his first one man show, in 1951. He was elected to the Royal Academy in 1954 and awarded the CBE in 1979. Spear taught at his alma mater, the Royal College of Art between 1948 and 1975, having taught previously at the Croydon College of Art.
Although an accomplished landscape and cityscape painter, Ruskin Spear is best remembered as a portrait artist. In addition to the noteworthies featured here, he also captured in oils Laurence Olivier, Lord Grade, Lord Hailsham and many others. He loved to hone his skills by painting, drawing, sketching the locals in the Hammersmith area, particularly in pubs: he was partial to a pint.
The pictures featured here clearly demonstrate the key attribute of the modern portrait master: the ability not just to do a good likeness, but to capture the essence of the subject’s character, not only as it actually is, but also as the public perceives it to be. Wilson is shifty, secretive; Bacon is scary and troubled; both are inscrutable.
Spear suffered from polio from a youth and was wheelchair-bound much of the time. He died on 17 January 1990.
I am indebted to the National Portrait Gallery for their kind permission to use these superb images.
Portraits by Ruskin Spear in the National Portrait Gallery collection.
Portraits of Ruskin Spear in the National Portrait Gallery collection.
Portrait of the Week (Guardian, 2001).
Desert Island Disks. Spear was featured in 1973. Note bizarre selection of Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.
Artwork Collection. Trent Art’s collection of Ruskin Spear’s artwork.