Mary Adshead

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Mary Adshead
Mary Adshead00.jpg
Self-portrait (1931)
Born (1904-02-15)15 February 1904
Bloomsbury, London, England
Died 3 September 1995(1995-09-03) (aged 91)
London, England
Nationality British
Education Slade School of Art
Known for Painting, murals
Spouse(s) Stephen Bone

Mary Adshead (15 February 1904 - 3 September 1995) was an English painter, muralist, illustrator and designer.

Life and work

Adshead was born in Bloomsbury, London, the only child of Stanley Davenport Adshead, architect, watercolourist, and Professor of Civic Design first at Liverpool, and later at London University, and his wife Mary. Mary Adshead attended Putney High School from 1916 to 1919 and then spent six months in Paris. Due to her fathers' position within London University, she was able to enroll at the Slade School of Art in 1921, aged just sixteen.[1] There Henry Tonks recognised her ability and arranged her first mural commission, for a boys' club in Wapping, working with Rex Whistler.[2][3] This success led to further commissions. Her next mural, carried out in 1924, was on a desert island theme for the professor of architecture at Liverpool University, Charles Reilly. This mural still exists and is on display at Liverpool University Art Gallery.[4] A large mural by Adshead, The Housing of the People, was shown at the 1924 British Empire Exhibition at Wembley.[1]

Another commission was for Lord Beaverbrook's Newmarket house.[3] Her mandate was to decorate his dining-room with Newmarket racing scenes and portraits of his friends, such as Arnold Bennett, Lady Louis Mountbatten, and Winston Churchill, on their way to the racecourse. The project was never completed as Beaverbrook became concerned that he would be daily faced with the portraits if he ever fell out with any of them.[5][6] Beaverbrook paid Adshead a two-thirds rejection fee and returned the completed panels which were exhibited in a London department store in 1930. Later all but three of the panels were destroyed by fire whilst in storage.[1]

In 1934 she was commissioned to paint murals for the auditorium, designed by her father to replace one lost to fire, on Victoria Pier at Colwyn Bay.[7] After the pier's partial collapse, these were thought unrecoverable, but, as of March 2018, several siginificnat parts been recovered, along with parts of another by Eric Ravilious, from the pier's tea-rooms.[7] Adshead also painted a mural for the British Pavilion at the Paris International Exhibition of 1937.[8]

Her first solo exhibition was held in 1930 at the Goupil Gallery and included the painting The Morning after the Flood which is now in the Tate collection.[9] Working with her husband, she illustrated two children's books. In April 1941, Adshead submitted a small number of paintings to the War Artists' Advisory Committee, of which the Committee purchased one.[10] She designed some pictorial issues of stamps for the GPO in 1949, followed by the 2s 6d and 5s high value definitive stamps in 1951, and she designed the frame around the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on the 8d, 9d, 10d and 11d Wilding series definitive stamps. In 1950 she decorated the fourth-floor restaurant of Selfridge's with jungle scenes. Other commissions included poster designs for London Transport and several murals, now lost, for Bank Underground Station as well as painting sets for the film Cleopatra.[8] Despite her busy work schedule, she also found time to organise the Society of Mural Painters.[4][2]

In 1929 she married Stephen Bone, the son of the artist Sir Muirhead Bone. The marriage produced two sons and a daughter.[4] After her husband's death in 1958, Adshead travelled widely in both Europe and the United States. She studied techniques of mosaic decoration in Ravenna and Sicily and had a number of exhibitions of her work both as a solo artist and alongside the works left by Stephen Bone.[3] Despite some lameness, blamed on long periods painting off ladders, Adshead remained an active working artist until the end of her life.[1]

Exhibited works

Lady Louis Mountbatten waiting at a puncture on her way to Newmarket[5]

Adshead's 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. Notable works by Adshead included murals, produced with Stephen Bone, for the liner RMS Queen Mary in 1935-36 which were not installed, a triptych for St Mary and All Saints Church in Plymstock near Plymouth in 1957, a decorative pool in the Telephone Exchange Courtyard in Guernsey in 1966 and a mural for a pedestrian subway in Rotherhithe in 1983.[11]

An exhibition of her work was held at The University of Liverpool Art Gallery (January-April 2005), Graves Art Gallery Sheffield (June-September 2005) and Kingston upon Thames Art Gallery (October-November 2005).

Further reading

  • Matthew H. Clough, Ann Compton. Earthly delights: Mary Adshead, 1904-1995 (University of Liverpool Art Gallery, 2004)


  1. ^ a b c d HCG Matthew & Brian Harrison (Editors) (2004). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Volume 1 Aaron-Amory. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-861351-2. 
  2. ^ a b "Artist: Mary Adshead". London Transport Museum. Retrieved 10 December 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c Frances Spalding (1990). 20th Century Painters and Sculptors. Antique Collectors' Club. ISBN 1 85149 106 6. 
  4. ^ a b c Sally Hunter (7 September 1995). "Obituary: Mary Adshead". The Independent. Retrieved 10 December 2009. 
  5. ^ a b An English Holiday - The Puncture (1928 Mural - Liss Fine Art)
  6. ^ Robert Upstone (17 February 2013). "Modern British Murals". Huffington Post. Retrieved 4 April 2017. 
  7. ^ a b Dearden, Chris (12 March 2018). "Bid to save pier murals amid demolition". BBC News. Retrieved 19 March 2018. 
  8. ^ a b Alicia Foster (2004). Tate Women Artists. Tate Publishing. ISBN 1-85437-311-0. 
  9. ^ Terry Riggs (December 1997). "Morning after the Flood". Tate. Retrieved 10 December 2016. 
  10. ^ Imperial War Museum. "War artists archive, Mary Adshead". Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 10 December 2016. 
  11. ^ Terry Riggs (December 1997). "Artists Biography:Mary Adshead". Tate. Retrieved 10 December 2016. 

External links

  • 16 paintings by or after Mary Adshead at the Art UK site
  • Mary Adshead (
  • Mary Adshead at London Atelier of Representational Art
  • Mary Adshead (1904–1995) at Le Point bed and breakfast
  • Mary Adshead at Library of Congress Authorities, with 4 catalogue records
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