Monday, March 19, 2012

Diana Armfield RA, RWS - an appreciation

I'm an enormous fan of the work of figurative artist Diana Armfield RA, RWS, RWE, PS, NEAC - for all sorts of reasons.
  • First off, she draws wonderfully well - with a very sensitive line.
  • Next she's a big user of pastels but uses them with very few strokes and a light touch...
  • ...she produces stunning pastel drawings in a sketchy sort of way - which of course is another reason I like her work
Lambing Time, North Wales by Diana Armfield
  • She's the inspiration behind my sketches of interiors with people - often in the middle of a nice meal!
  • She's not wedded to one media. I love her painting as well in oils, watercolour and gouache.  I like her dabs and dashes and beautiful modulations of colour.
  • She draws and paints the bits of Venice that nobody else seems to paint
  • I always find her people very believable and love her drawings of women talking.  They speak of quiet observation of real people.
In my art, I’m always trying to express something which I’m admiring. The last thing I’m thinking about is expressing myself.Diana Armfield
This post was prompted by stumbling across a video of her which I found on the RWS website.  It's a video created by the RWS to celebrate her 90th year - and below you can see her in her studio talking about her work with David Paskett, President of the Royal Watercolour Society

After that you can find a summary of how she likes to work followed by a synopis of her career to date - she's now in her ninety second year - plus where you can see her work.

Diana Armfield on her way of working

She primary paints landscapes (including sheep), townscapes and interiors (with people) as well as flowers. Her format is invariably quite small and never exceeds 50X 60 cms.

I work from observation and experience; draw and paint what I can admire, enjoy or love; to share with others what I discover and reflect on. I hope to reveal and confirm that the things and experiences I paint are of lasting importance and enormously worth cherishing. To translate into paint is always a challenge and something of a mystery.
Diana Armfield RA (RA website)
The following is adapted from her profile for the Mall Galleries
Media and supports:  I use oils, pastel, watercolour, gouache, lithography, etching, drawing, both sketchbook and for showing. I create work on canvas, hardboard, mounting board with homemade egg primer - subsequently toned. All kinds of watercolour and drawing paper, canson for pastels, plus smooth paper and hardback sketchbooks.

Brushes and tools:  In terms of specific materials, I use hog brushes for oils, a palette knife, rag, fingers, sable brushes (for watercolour) and soft pastels.

Work in progress: I usually have more than one work on the go, usually of a different medium. However, I go through flowers hour after hour for a few hours or days, hoping to establish them before too much altering or wilting. A big bunch of wild flowers can take weeks with replenishing, over painting, adding to, removing and shifting.

Observation from life vs photography:   I paint from life or sketchbooks as the visual experience is rather more intense and memorable than from a photograph. I do take photos sometimes, and may refer to them - very seldom for flowers.  In themselves photographs are interesting, offering their own qualities, but they aren’t the same as my own experience and are no substitute for drawing and looking.

Sketches to paintings:  I work both on the spot in landscape , townscape, from sketchbook drawings for interiors, cafes etc.  I sometimes paint larger versions from smaller sketches. Sometimes a drawing will set off both an oil and a pastel, watercolour or etching.
a double page spread of sketches of people on the Riva in Venice
A book has been published about her work - see 'The Art of Diana Armfield' by Julian Halsby, published by David and Charles.  It's one of those books I go and look at when I want to get back to being real without being precise! I first encountered her work in various books which featured artwork from current contemporary artists - and her work kept popping up, rather in the same way I frequently encounter it when I visit exhibitions.


She was born in June 1920 and was educated at Bedales, Bournemouth, Slade School of Fine Art and Central School of Arts and Crafts

She met her husband Bernard Dunstan at art school during the second World War.  They live in Kew and have three children.

  • prior to becoming a full time artist age 45, she worked until 1965 as a textile and wallpaper designer. Her designs are in a permanent collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum
  • she taught at the Byam Shaw School of Art from 1959 until 1990
Membership of Art Societies:  She's a member of a fair few art societies
  • 1970 - elected member of the New English Art Club (now an Honorary Member)
  • 1975 - elected member of the Royal West of England Academy (now a Homorary Retired Academician)
  • 1980 - elected to the Royal Watercolour Society
  • 1989 - elected to the Royal Academy of Arts and became a full member in 1991
  • Honorary member of the Pastel Society and the New English Art Club
Showing the way, Santanzelo, Venice - by Diana Armfield
gouache and pastel

Art Collections:  her work is owned by the Prince of Wales (paintings of Highgrove), the Yale Centre for British Art, the Contemporary Art Society for Wales, the National Trust and the Government Art Collection.  She also has work in numerous public and private collections.

Exhibitions: she is a listed gallery artist and has had numerous shows with Browse and Derby in London.  Plus you can view her work in various art society exhibitions:
I'm expecting to see two works at the Spring Exhibition of the Royal Watercolour Society which opens to the public at the Bankside Gallery on Friday 23rd March.

The feature wall for work by Diana Armfield at RWS Spring Exhibition 2011
Note:  Apart from the video, the images come from the feature exhibition of Diana Armfield's work - for her 90th birthday - at the RWS Spring Exhibition 2011
The featured artist is Diana Armfield RA RWS Hon. NEAC Rt. RCA Hin. PSRA RWS PS who is now in her nineties and still exhibiting on a regular basis at the RA and other leading art societies of which she is a member. I think I'll probably do a separate post about Diana Armfield as she's one of the artists I really like and I can't do her work justice in this post. If you like works which are amazingly well drawn and which mix media with many fewer marks than you initially think are there you should pay a visit to this exhibition. The exhibition includes access to her sketchbooks via a display cabinet and as you can imagine I was riveted by this aspect!Review: Royal Watercolour Society - Spring Exhibition 2011 


  1. I love her work too - so thankyou for this link.

  2. Thanks for the information and nice paintings

  3. That was great, thank you. I would love you to do a piece on Pamela Kay and Jane Corsellis too, if you're in the mood! Two more fabulous female artists! :)

  4. I'm also a fan of her work - although I had only seen her oils to date. Thanks for raising my awareness of her drawings, she really does have a beautiful sense of line. And it's such an inspiration to see her painting in her nineties.


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