Obituary: Fred Dubery – Suffolk’s recorder of domestic detail

Artist Fred Dubery, who has died aged 84, was a quietly distinguished recorder of Suffolk scenes.

Growing up as an only child in South London, his early years were clouded by a stammer and he left school at 16 with a marked lack of confidence but a singular and abiding sense of style.

After working in an advertising agency he was conscripted into the Royal Artillery at 18 as a map-maker, joining the allied advance across northern France and Germany pursued by subscription copies of his beloved Vogue magazine.

On being demobbed he studied at London art schools, first at Croydon and then the Royal College of Art where he was awarded a painting prize by Francis Bacon.

Graduating in 1953 he maintained a studio while teaching painting and drawing part-time, with odd days at the local art schools which were a glory of post-war London.

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He showed at Royal Academy summer exhibitions from 1950. In 1956 he was elected a member of the New English Art Club, his spiritual home, of which he was made an honorary life member 40 years later. He enjoyed seven solo shows in London between 1957 and 2001 and featured in numerous mixed exhibitions.

Teaching at Walthamstow School of Art in 1963, he finally met fashion tutor Joanne Brogden - the pair had failed to spot each other when fellow RCA students a decade earlier. Her eye was initially caught by the hand-made three-piece tweed suit which set Fred apart from his casually-dressed colleagues swinging into the 1960s.

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In 1964, invited by keeper Peter Greenham, he became a visiting tutor at the Royal Academy Schools, where he was appointed Professor of Perspective in 1984 - working concurrently as a part-time senior lecturer at his old Royal College of Art.

Joanne led him to the Cap d’Antibes, where she already had a base, and that began their joint adventures abroad. In 1965 they went to the South of France to be married, motoring in Joanne’s open-topped Triumph Herald.

Every Easter and summer vacation thereafter they visited France or Italy - savouring food and wine and following artistic heroes. Fred Dubery paid particular homage to Chardin, Bonnard and Vuillard, but his pictures would always be cast in an English light.

After marrying, the couple longed for a rural retreat. While visiting close friends and fellow artists Lionel Bulmer and Margaret Green, they found a moated and near-derelict Suffolk long house near Rattlesden whose farmer-owner was finally persuaded to rent out for 12s 6d (62.5p) a year.

With neither electricity nor mains water - they drove with brimful plastic containers from London - the house was a romantic artist’s idyll. But the farmer stubbornly refused to sell.

They bought their furniture from junk shops - old oak; iron beds – and Fred added antique ceramic and glass for a few shillings which he wanted as props for his paintings.

And then, in 1968, they bought a former dairy farm near Stowmarket. A Georgian facade hid a Tudor structure, and a rambling garden looked on to an orchard and meadow. For 40 years this sublime setting was the backdrop for Fred’s pictures of perfect contentment.

He worked always in oils, loving the manipulation of pigment, and working thinly and with bee’s wax to gain a translucent quality. Critic Frances Spalding admired images which were “always painted from an unexpected angle and have a mysterious poetic quality”.

He all but relocated to Suffolk a decade before Joanne retired from her post as professor of fashion at the RCA in 1999, to focus on figurative sculpture.

By then the adopted county had flooded through Fred’s paintings in landscapes around the River Dove and Southwold’s Gun Hill, but the work always returned to details – the corner of a table, the edge of a mantelpiece - of a domestic haven.

A series of strokes - one after a visit to Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum - ended his painting career, and Fred was latterly tended by Joanne with brilliant devotion until his death in West Suffolk hospital.

Like so many painters of merit, his work was never properly appreciated in his lifetime. It will be yet.

On the day he died several of his pictures were accepted for a New English Art Club survey at Messum’s in London’s Cork Street and a memorial solo show is now eagerly awaited.

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