The artist, David Fell (1927-2002) was born into a working-class Bradford family. Although he showed aptitude for art at school and wanted to pursue an art career, his father had other ideas. In later life, David told the local newspaper:
I always wanted to be an artist but my parents couldn’t afford to send me to college. My father’s attitude was that all I wanted to do was live in a garret, paint women, and sup beer. He didn’t seem to think that artists worked for a living in industry…(Bradford ‘Telegraph & Argus’ 23/01/1999)
His first job was in Lister’s Mill in Manningham, Bradford. During WW2, when David was old enough he volunteered for the Navy, but before he could serve in it, he broke his leg badly and was in and out of hospital for the next three years. He was eventually discharged from the Navy without seeing any service.
He then worked as a baker after the war, but in 1948 found he could get a small grant of £3.50 a week, plus bus fares, to study art at Bradford Art College. He studied commercial art at college until 1951, which he found a struggle financially – he often had to reclaim drawing materials from waste bins, along with other items discarded by other, more affluent students (Bradford ‘Telegraph & Argus’ 05/12/2000).
After graduating from college David worked in the commercial art field for a number of years until the company he worked for ran into financial difficulties and he was forced to seek other employment. He then worked as a lorry driver for the next two decades, but would spend his lunch hours sketching. He said:
I drove wagons and lorries for about 25 years but I used to take a sketch pad to work with me and was painting in my dinner hour. I would get into trouble because I used to sketch other lorry drivers dozing in their cabs. They didn’t like it because they would get caught for sleeping on the job. (Bradford ‘Telegraph & Argus’, 12/01/1999)
He was persuaded by a friend, who had bought his paintings, to pursue an art career and his friend gave David £20 to buy a Polaroid camera to take photographs to use as the basis of his paintings.
Having now committed to painting, he applied himself to a wide range of subjects, from landscapes, seascapes and urban scenes, to military and naval scenes. He tried every avenue to seek commissions and later said of this:
I go around firms and factories now seeing if they need any work done and sometimes they look at you like you’re an idiot, but it’s terrific when you get a commission.(Bradford ‘Telegraph & Argus’ 23.01.1999)
David painted prolifically in a waterline style – involving drawing lines on top of a watercolour painting on rough paper. He also drew on his commercial art training to produce silk screen printing artworks, and also painted in acrylics.
He exhibited at shows of the Royal Society of Watercolour Artists, Royal Society of British Artists, and Royal Society of Marine Artists. In Yorkshire, his work was widely shown, including at Leeds University (Fairburn House) and at Cartwright Hall, Bradford. In 1974 he had over 70 of his paintings on display in the Bronte Suite of the Midland Hotel, Bradford.
In 1980, along with two friends, he opened the Wadsworth Gallery at Haworth, where his own and other local artists’ work was exhibited. The same year one of David’s maritime paintings was selected by art writer, Denys Brook-Hart, for his book, Twentieth Century Marine Painting, published in 1981.
In 1991 Leeds University also issued ‘Ruined Farmhouse at Mixenden’, as a limited edition print. This work had been originally shown by David at the British Watercolour Society show in The Mall Gallery, London,
In 1998, whilst on a trip to Australia, David was commissioned by the Hill-Smith Art Gallery in Adelaide to paint five pictures of St. Peter’s College in Adelaide. During his Australia trip he also painted the Adelaide park scene, shown below.
David’s artwork was popular with local collectors and he was occasionally commissioned to paint for them, including the Spitfire, shown below.
After David’s death in 2002, Andrew Hartley Fine Art Auctioneers held a sale of 300 David Fell paintings at the auction rooms in Ilkley in 2003.