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Remembering Leonard McComb RA


Published 6 July 2018

Colleagues, friends and family pay tribute to artist and teacher Leonard McComb, who died on 19 June 2018 aged 87.

  • Leonard McComb RA studied at Manchester School of Art and subsequently at the Slade School of Fine Art from 1956 to 1959, followed by a postgraduate degree in sculpture, also at the Slade, in 1960. He went on to teach at various art schools, including Oxford Brookes University, Sir John Cass College, the Slade, Royal College of Art and Goldsmiths College, and in 1974 he founded the Sunningwell School of Art, Oxford.

    He was elected as a Royal Academician in 1987, and from 1995-98 served as Keeper of the Royal Academy, placing him in charge of the Royal Academy Schools. He was an Honorary Member of the Royal Watercolour Society, The Royal Societies of Painter Printmakers and of Portrait Painters. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by Oxford Brookes University in 2004.

    His work is represented in many major national collections including the British Museum, Tate Britain, Victoria and Albert Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. He also completed two mosaics for Westminster Cathedral.

  • If one person smiles when they see my work it is enough, my life has had a meaning and a shape.

    Leonard McComb RA

  • Rebecca Salter RA, the current Keeper of the Royal Academy, remembers Leonard McComb as “a dedicated and popular teacher, who believed strongly in the importance of an artist passing knowledge on to the next generation.”

    “The most cursory of glances at Leonard McComb’s work would tell you a great deal about him as both a person and an artist.

    “There is a delicacy of observation, an almost obsessive attention to detail and a quiet serenity. Whether he was painting people, flowers or fruit, he felt that they were all portraits and they were all subjected to his gentle scrutiny.”

    Leonard McComb’s sister, Anne Draycott, describes him as “inspirational to me and all he met”.

    “In his last days Len was organising the space in his room. He died peacefully with images of his trees and nature and music around him, with me sitting beside him reading his poem. Leonard was and will remain a truly wonderful artist and an exceptional human being.”

  • Dan Cowap, the RA’s Head of Art Handling, has fond memories of working with Leonard McComb on the 1988 Summer Exhibition, when McComb was one of the artists on the selection and hanging committee.

    “While we were hanging the exhibition Len found the time, often over lunch, to do an etching of everyone who worked on the exhibition. When the hang was finished, he made prints for everybody and gave them to us as gifts.

    “At that time he used to talk a lot about generosity of spirit.”

    Leonard McComb’s portrait of Dan Cowap is pictured above. His diploma work in the RA Collection, Sgt. Bert Bowers (also pictured above) is currently on display outside The Collection Gallery, Burlington Gardens.

    • Academicians in Focus: Leonard McComb RA

      17 August 2018 – 27 January 2019

      The RA will be celebrating Leonard’s McComb’s work later this year with an exhibition in the Belle Shenkman Room, Keeper’s House.

      Leonard McComb loved working from life and much of his subject matter was inspired by his extensive travels, particularly in Cyprus and the south of France. His work was led and informed by the close relationships he forged over time, be they with friends made while abroad or among the market traders of Billingsgate, London. The exhibition will include still lifes, landscapes and portraits, and a selection of images can be seen below. For enquiries about the exhibition, please email robin.spalding@royalacademy.org.uk

      Leonard McComb RA, Portrait of the Artist


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