RA Collection: People and Organisations
Fascinated by art from a young age, Eileen Agar became an important figure in the British surrealist movement. Agar was born in Argentina but moved to London with her family in 1911. Having a Scottish father, an American mother and a French nanny exposed Agar to multiple cultural influences. She was sent to school in England where Lucy Kemp Welch encouraged her to study art. Initially enrolled at the Byam Shaw School of Art, Agar left as she felt that the focus of the school was too academic. Agar then trained at Leon Underwood’s school in West London before attending the Slade School of Fine Art from 1921 to 1924. In 1925 she married fellow Slade student Robin Bartlett and travelled with him in France and Spain. In 1926 she met the Hungarian writer Joseph Bard with whom she would spend the next 50 years. Moving to Paris in 1926 she established close friendships with Surrealists André Breton and Paul Éluard. She also studied with the Czech cubist, František Foltýn and visited Constantin Brâncuși’s studio with Ezra Pound. During the 1930s, Agar began to experiment with new materials, working with photography and making collages and sculptures. From the mid-1930s, Agar and Bard began spending their summers in Dorset, where they met Paul Nash who encouraged Agar to incorporate ‘found objects’ into her work and supported her artistic development. Agar was one of a handful of British women to have her work included in the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition in London. This led to a string of appearances in surrealist exhibitions in Europe, the US and Japan. After the Second World War, Agar moved away from pure surrealism to a more abstract form of painting known as Tachism, sometimes described as a European equivalent of Abstract Expressionism. Her later paintings are often composed of brightly-coloured, simplified shapes and patterns. Sixteen solo exhibitions of Agar’s work were held between 1946 and 1985, reflecting the popularity of her artistic output. She was elected a member of the Royal Academy in 1988 and died in Paris in 1988 where she is buried alongside other artists and public figures in Père Lachaise Cemetery.
Born: 1 December 1899 in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Died: 17 November 1991
Elected RA: 4 May 1988
Elected Senior RA: 4 May 1988
Preferred media: Painting and Sculpture