The abstract painter and printmaker, Marie Walker Last, was born, Marie Walker, in 1917 at Scholes, Kirklees, although she lived and worked at Ilkley from the early 1960s onwards to her death in 2017.
Marie grew up in the early years of the twentieth century in an affluent household at Scholes, near Brighouse, with walls lined with paintings acquired from Royal Academy Summer Shows by her arts enthusiast father, Hubert Walker, a successful textile manufacturer.
As a child, another important influence on her artistic development was the work of an aunt, Hilda Walker, a successful painter and sculptor living in London. Marie later recalled visiting her aunt’s studio, watching her work, and being captivated by the smells, sights and painting process. Hilda encouraged Marie and took her on sketching trips to the Yorkshire Dales, where Marie was introduced to landscape painting that eventually became the focus for her own work.
At boarding school in Surrey, Marie pursued her art studies at weekly art classes. These mainly involved still life subjects, but Marie persuaded the staff to allow her to work outside on nature and landscape studies of the Surrey countryside.
After leaving school, she returned to Yorkshire to look after her parents, but in 1939, after the start of WW2, Marie joined the Land Army and later became a driver in the YMCA. Her wartime duties gave her little time for painting, but in the immediate post war period she began to paint the Yorkshire landscape again.
In 1953 she joined a group of amateur painters on a painting course in Bruges, led by the watercolour landscape painter, Jack Merriot. Encouraged by his tuition, she became a member of the Northern Federation of Artists and attended their summer painting schools during the mid 1950s. Here she met leading artists of the time, including Robert Medley and Terry Frost, who encouraged their students to consider landscape as a means of personal expression, rather than just a form of pictorial representation.
Robert Medley, in particular, encouraged Marie to apply to Chelsea School of Art, where in 1956 she was accepted and was taught by another Yorkshire landscape painter, Vivian Pitchforth.
In 1957 Marie spent the summer in Majorca painting landscapes and met the writer, Robert Graves, who lived there and who showed an interest in her work.
During her time in London, Marie became absorbed in and influenced by the contemporary art scene and began working from a studio in Tite Street, producing abstract expressionist work of considerable boldness and energy. The examples below, ‘Night Spirits’ and ‘Space Drift’, were part of a series of works derived from the artist’s fascination with the universe, prompted by advances in space exploration in the late 1950s and 1960s.
In 1959 she was offered her first solo exhibition at the University Gallery in Newcastle – an offshoot of the New Vision Gallery in London – that had established itself as a centre for contemporary abstract art.
Marie was subsequently offered work at the New Vision Gallery in London as an assistant to the founder of the gallery, Denis Bowen. This was a significant career move for her as it led to another solo exhibition in 1960 at the Gallery and to important contacts in the London art scene. She joined the Women’s International Art Club and exhibited in Britain and overseas with them. She also became a member of the Free Painters Group and the Artists International Association, exhibiting her work with them on a regular basis.
In 1961, Marie married Tom Last, a Yorkshire solicitor, and moved back to Yorkshire to live at Ilkley, later acquiring a studio at Menston. Landscape in general, and the Yorkshire landscape in particular, now became a strong focus of her work.
She met Arthur Kitching, the curator of the Manor House Gallery, Ilkley, who encouraged her painting and in 1964 offered her the chance of her first solo exhibition. A display and sale of Marie Walker Last’s artwork is also scheduled for the Manor House Gallery, June 14-17th 2018.
Subsequent solo exhibitions in Yorkshire were held at the Goosewell Gallery, Menston, 1969; the Park Square Gallery, Leeds, 1974; and a first major retrospective exhibition of her work at Dean Clough Gallery in 1991. Cartwright Hall, Bradford, also held two retrospective exhibitions of her work, the last in 2001. Her work has also been featured in group shows abroad, including in Sydney, Paris, Athens and Florence.
Other major exhibitions of her work were at the Camden Arts Centre, London in 1980, where she won First Prize in the Druce Constable Award, and at Leighton House, London, 1981. She also, in 1988, won £1,000 for her painting, Limestone Terrain, in a competition honouring the English landscape painter, John Constable. One of the competition selectors was Richard Constable, a great-great grandson of John Constable, and her winning work was exhibited at the Camden Arts Centre, and later at Cartwright Hall, Bradford.
Examples of Marie Walker Last’s work can be found in commercial collections, including the Bank of England, Granada Television, and the Halifax Building Society, and in the publicly accessible collections of the York, Leeds and Bradford Universities, plus The Open University, and in the Bradford Museums and Galleries permanent collection. She was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Bradford in 1996.
The art critic, John Sheeran, wrote:
Marie Walker Last’s place within the context of twentieth century British art is difficult to establish; for as her work has developed, it has touched on or experimented with widely differing artistic movements and styles. Emotional sensations aroused by direct personal experience of landscape and the translation of such feelings into lyrical orchestration of paint, lie at the heart of her art. In this respect, she belongs firmly to the English romantic landscape tradition which stretches from Constable and Turner to Nash, Sutherland and Hitchens. (p.29; see Bibliography, below).
Marie Walker Last, by John Sheeran. Published by Sheeran Lock Fine Art Consultants, Hebden Bridge, 1991. ISBN 0951711407.
See also: Marie Walker Last