Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Penzance
The artistic heart of West Cornwall's history

Coombe Valley Factory, Newlyn

Oil on canvas, 1945. Purchased in 2015 with grant funding from the V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Friends of Penlee House

Adrian Ryan

1920 - 1998

Adrian Ryan was described by fellow artists Sven Berlin as 'the painter's painter' and Francis Bacon as 'the best-kept secret in the art world'. He settled in Cornwall in 1945, choosing to live in Mousehole over St Ives. In 1962 he was elected chair of the Newlyn Society of Artists and was a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy.

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Biography

Adrian Ryan - 1920 - 1998

Adrian Ryan was born in Hampstead, London and attended Eton College. He studied at the Slade School of Art from 1938 – 1940 during its wartime residency at Ruskin College, Oxford 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. In 1994 Berlin wrote,

'[Adrian]... always seemed to be smiling at a joke he never got round to completely telling - it was life. Always generous and kind, a fine painter with a touch of Soutine that betokened a macabre streak. He could paint a calf's head fresh from the butcher, day after day, until it was teeming with maggots, yet produce a landscape as gentle to the eye as a Ruysdael. A painter whose every brushstroke is the centre of the universe he is creating'. (The Coat of Many Colours, 1994).

Adrian Ryan’s work during 1940s was influenced by his friend Sir Matthew Smith; both artists shared an admiration for the bold colour and free, expressive painting style of the French Fauve artists including Henri Matisse and André Derain. Ryan was also an admirer of Amedeo Modigliani and the Russian Expressionist artist Chaim Soutine. However, 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. Ryan could never bear the bickering of St Ives artists and was happy to be at that remove. He was "in the club and yet he wasn't" remarked the painter Guy Roddon. This artistic detachment was recognised by his patron Eardley Knollys, who wrote, 'Adrian Ryan is an objective painter remarkably free from contemporary obsessions. His eyes are directed towards the forms and landscapes we all know, and he is more concerned with their reality than with the reality of his own responses to them. However, in looking at his work, we soon realise that he likes what he sees, he likes a contrast of pure colour, he likes the feel of paint. When he is most successful his pleasure in the visual world becomes infectious and the whole canvas seems to be bursting into flower under the spectator's eye.' (Art News and Review, October 8th, 1949).

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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