Nan Youngman is remembered primarily as a painter, but from before the war to the mid-1960s she was an influential figure in art education, as a teacher, an author and an impressively efficient organiser of exhibitions.
She was born in Maidstone in 1906 and trained at the Slade School of Art (1924-27). Needing to finance her career as an artist by teaching, she went on to the London Day Training College. There she was taught by Marion Richardson, who introduced her to Roger Fry and awakened her interest in children's art. From 1929 until 1944 she divided her time between painting and teaching; she lectured for the London County Council, gave practical art classes for schoolteachers and taught part-time. The organisation of exhibitions became an important part of her strategy for increasing children's awareness of art.
The death of her friend the artist Felicia Browne in Spain in 1936 altered Youngman's political outlook. She joined the left-wing Artists' International Association (AIA) and organised Browne's memorial exhibition. AIA group shows became a focus for her painting, though politics never entered her own work. It was Nan Youngman who in 1939 famously asked a workman in from the Whitechapel High Street to open the AIA's exhibition "Art for All".
At the outbreak of war, she was evacuated with the children of Highbury Hill School where she was teaching to Huntingdon. With Betty Rea, the sculptor, Rea's two boys, and three children of an enlisted friend, she set up house, first in Godmanchester and later at 'Papermills' in Cambridge. In 1944 she became art adviser to Cambridgeshire under Henry Morris.
Nan Youngman became chairman of the Society for Education through Art in 1945 and published her ideas in articles for Athene (the SEA journal), the New Era in Home and School and the Education Journal. Through the SEA she initiated a remarkable series of exhibitions of contemporary art for sale to education authorities called "Pictures for Schools". The first took place in 1947 at the Victoria and Albert Museum and these continued annually at the Whitechapel Gallery and elsewhere until 1969.
Through setting up a Welsh series of Pictures for Schools exhibitions Youngman discovered the landscape of south Wales, which provided the subject of much of her strongest work. During the mid-1960s she moved to Waterbeach in the Fens whence her landscapes grew in subtlety.
Nan Youngman was awarded the OBE in 1987.
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