“A marvellous scheme which was a tremendous source of encouragement in very lean times”: Fred Cuming RA on Pictures for Schools

I had a chat on the phone this week with Fred Cuming, a painter who submitted artworks to several of the Pictures for Schools exhibitions in the 1950s and 1960s, mainly at the Royal Academy (Cuming recalls at the time he was already interested in the Royal Academy’s work; later, in 1974, he became the youngest member to ever be elected Royal Academician). Cuming describes Pictures for Schools as a “marvellous scheme” which was “a tremendous source of encouragement in very lean times”.

Cuming became involved in Pictures for Schools in the mid-1950s as a recent graduate from the Royal College of Art, and continued to submit work until the scheme ended in 1969. He remembers that a whole generation of young painters, from London art colleges, including the Slade, the Royal Academy Schools and Goldsmiths, would send work as it was a ‘means of earning a bit of money’. He recalls: “It was common knowledge as somewhere you could sell a few pictures.” Artworks were sold at small, reasonable prices, and Cuming managed to sell an artwork or two every year. He isn’t sure where his paintings ended up, as artworks sold to the scheme went to education authorities across the country and found their way into public collections, but recalls that some work went up North to Kendal and Scunthorpe, and that one painting was purchased by the Museum of Wales.

For many young painters, Pictures for Schools was their first chance to exhibit their work and get their name known. Cuming explains: “It was very important to young painters, a lovely opportunity. It did me a world of good, that little exhibition. When you first come out of whatever college you’ve been to, not many galleries are interested in you, but lots of education authorities and a lot of the public visited, who were interested in what young artists were doing. It was also an introduction to exhibiting for local authorities. They ought to do it again.” The exhibitions also benefited children, by giving them an opportunity to see young artists’ work which was of a good quality – Cuming recalls that the standard of the exhibitions was always very good.

Cuming is primarily a painter of landscapes and interiors, often depicting the coastal landscapes of Kent, Romney Marsh and East Sussex in impressionistic, atmospheric style, with a particular interest in the effects of light. He is also interested in depicting interiors, for example in a number of paintings of his studio. He explains: “I painted the pictures I was interested in at the time – I didn’t try to paint to meet a market.” He remembers that painting was dominated by the so-called Kitchen Sink School of realist painters, centred around artists such as John Bratby, at the time, and that, although some abstract art was beginning to come in, painting was very much figurative-based. Cuming attributes this to the ‘very academic’ training painters received at art school.

To find out more and see pictures of Cuming’s work, visit www.fredcuming.com/index.html.

One Comment on ““A marvellous scheme which was a tremendous source of encouragement in very lean times”: Fred Cuming RA on Pictures for Schools”

  1. […] Bratby, the print-makers Gertrude Hermes, Valerie Thornton and Anthony Gross, Kent-based painter Fred Cuming, who was featured in Pictures for Schools as a young artist and continues to work and take an […]

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