Graham Arnold obituary

Other lives: Painter who lived a ruralist lifestyle in an echo of the Pre-Raphaelite movement

Graham Arnold, who has died aged 86, was an outstanding painter and an important member of a group of artists who sought to counteract what they saw as the corrosive impact of the modern movement on the traditional strengths and virtues of English art.

Together with Peter Blake, David Inshaw, Graham Ovenden and Annie Ovenden, Graham and his wife, Ann, also a painter, formed the Brotherhood of Ruralists (a conscious echo of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood) in 1975. Discarded, painterly skills would be reasserted. The age-old relationship of the artist with the English landscape would experience a renaissance.

Graham Arnold, with his wife, Ann, championed traditional painterly skills
Graham Arnold, with his wife, Ann, championed traditional painterly skills Photograph:

The Brotherhood was almost at once the subject of a major BBC TV documentary and interest in the Ruralist manifesto spread through Britain. Even though the founding artists have gone their own way since then, that widespread interest in the Brotherhood continues and its ideas still reverberate.

Graham was born in Beckenham, Kent, one of five children of Mildred and Charles Arnold. His father was a publisher of mostly religious books and a talented amateur artist who taught Graham how to paint. Graham attended various art schools before and during the second world war. After the war he exhibited at the Royal Academy and then did national service with the Royal Artillery. This led to an unlikely posting – teaching at an army boarding school in the forests of Malaya’s Cameron Highlands, then a target for Chinese military action.

In 1958 he won a prize to spend two years in Rome. He bought a Lambretta motorbike to get there and travelled on it extensively in Italy and France.

In 1961 he married Ann Telfer and they moved to Devizes. There the Brotherhood was formed, and from there Graham exhibited in the Piccadilly Gallery, London, and in galleries all over England and Wales. In 1986, true to their Ruralist principles, the Arnolds moved to an idyllic spot in the Shropshire hills. But if this was the Ruralist dream come true there were disadvantages. They had acres of hillside, woodland and a vast garden to cope with. That did not leave much time for art. They moved into the nearby village of Chapel Lawn.

Birthday Tulips by Graham Arnold, 2015.
Birthday Tulips by Graham Arnold, 2015. Photograph: Catto Gallery

There Ann’s and Graham’s painting flourished. As well as painting more and more ambitious subjects, Graham took up collage in a big way. These works were crowded with detail – landscape certainly but with tantalising glimpses of cricket matches, dramatic figures poised equivocally, trees with exaggerated branches , seductive interiors of ravishing complexity. But Graham was no remote aesthete. He and Ann involved themselves in local matters with enthusiasm.

Ann died in 2017. Graham succumbed to a major stroke in 2018. For 10 months in care in Ludlow, he struggled to start painting and drawing again – to reassert something of the old life.

He had many devoted friends and followers, and is survived by 15 nieces and nephews.

Christopher Martin

The GuardianTramp

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