Sheila Fell (RA) - works and profile

27th May, 2022

Sheila Fell (RA) – 1931 – 1979

We’ve been rather active, and I dare say fortunate, in acquiring works by the late Sheila Fell this past year. Following our Sheila Fell Discoveries exhibition last October, additional works have crossed our path from private collections, allowing us to bring the same to Castlegate. Indeed, this past week or so we’ve acquired two paintings from 1958 and 1964 to add to the gallery collection. All of the six works by Sheila which are available in the gallery may be seen here.

For those of you less familiar with Miss Fell and her career, we thought a very brief reflection on her life and career may be timely.

1950s - St Martin's and Beaux Arts

Born in 1931 in Aspatria, a small very working-class mining town on the west of then-Cumberland, Sheila was to secure a place in 1950 at St. Martin’s School of Art, London. One can only wonder at what a nineteen-year-old Sheila from western Cumberland thought of the burgeoning art-world and come to think of it, wider world of post-war London. It can be reasoned that it was somewhat of a culture shock, but one she undoubtedly dealt with in her stride, becoming friends with many fellow art students who were to become household art names, such as a then-young Frank Auerbach.

After graduation, Sheila was to be nurtured and exhibited by Helen Lessore of Beaux Arts, London, arguably one of the most influential of galleries/dealers of the era. Sheila’s first two exhibitions, in 1955 and 1958, were typified by brooding earthy landscape of her native county, often using a limited palette of browns, greens and blues. The imposing painting from 1958 titled Autumn Cumberland II is a perfect example of Sheila’s work at that time; commanding, brooding, light against dark creating an element of drama, houses portrayed in her own very individual style and often with perspective deliberately altered or foreshortened, Sheila was to take then-old school landscape art and create something entirely new of the era.

1960s - colour and impasto

As the 50s moved into the 60s, Sheila’s work began to develop; her palette expanded, colour began to appear to the fore, paint used in a sculptural way creating amazing heavy-impasto paintings that referenced the likes of Van Gogh and Soutine. The latter’s influence can be seen in Field outside Aspatria from 1964. Shown in her Beaux Arts exhibition of the same year, it’s almost a journey with paint. Brush strokes flow around the elements of the composition, swirls move from sky to land, buildings askew, reminiscent of Soutine; it remains a fine example of Sheila’s development as an artist throughout the 1960s.

1970s - development and legacy

Sheila’s final decade, culminating in her untimely death in 1979 at the age of just forty-eight, witnessed a change to a more representational form of work. Paintings became generally brighter in tone, in some ways arguably more accessible to the viewer; still displaying a very individual style, they showed a material progression in composition and execution from her early days of the mid 1950s. A prime example of this can be seen in White House, Asparia, where the impasto of the 1960s has been left behind.

Sheila Fell received many accolades during her life, including John Moores painting prize success. Notably however, Sheila became an Associate Member of the Royal Academy in 1969 and thence a full-blown Academician in 1974, at a time when female representation was hardly representative of the wider world.  Her legacy is a body of work that took landscape painting into a new direction in the mid to latter twentieth century, an influence that can be seen in many artists since. She is rightly regarding as an important and influential part of what is now known as Modern British painting. 

It's interesting to consider that Sheila never returned to Cumberland to live, she continued to live in Central London until her death in 1979; however, the vast majority of her work represents her home county of Cumberland, then to become Cumbria. Many of her paintings centre around her home town and the landscape close by; she lived her adult life in London, but it’s clear that a huge part of her heart remained centred in the world she had known and been part of as a child.

Steve and Christine 


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