Happy memories for artist who featured in 1946 Leeds College of Art Rag Day photo

A photograph taken almost 70 years ago has prompted a trip down Memory Lane for an artist who grew up in the city.

Saturday, 5th March 2016, 6:55 am
Updated Saturday, 5th March 2016, 7:11 am
Mary Payne (now Fitzpayne), standing second in on the left at Leeds College of Art Rag Day June 30, 1946. PIC: Margaret Bostwick

Mary Payne, who is known professionally as Alice Mary Fitzpayne, was snapped during Leeds College of Art Rag Day on June 30, 1946.

The image, which appeared in the Yorkshire Evening Post in January sparked happy memories for the 87-year-old Yorkshire lass after a relative sent her a copy of the newspaper.

Mary’s daughter and spokeswoman Käthe Deutsch said: “It was a surprise to see the photograph and she remembered the rag day. She said they had a real laugh.”

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Mary Fitzpayne with her artist's lay figure, Belinda. PIC: Eli S-Deutsch

The artist, who features in the British Museum and collections across the world, is famed for her images of homeless people and of the circus.

Born in Catterick, Mary grew up in Leeds after her family moved to Moortown when she was a young girl.

Winning a scholarship to Leeds College of Art aged 13 years old, she spent six years at the art school before heading to London to study at The Central School of Art and Design and then the Royal College of Art - under artists including Francis Bacon and Roderigo Moynihan.

She credits Leeds College of Art with giving her the grounding and discipline to pursue her vocation.

Circus Dogs by Mary Fitzpayne

Käthe said: “She described that there would be days of life drawing; hours and hours of life drawing and she would be exhausted at the end of the day.”

The teenager would wander the city’s narrow streets where tailors were plying their trade in their small shops and in summer, through their open doors, watch them at work sitting on the cutting table with their legs crossed.

“She would start to make sketches of what she saw,” said Käthe. “She did sketches from what she had seen – improving her visual memory which helped her when visiting the circus in later years or in observing homeless people.”

Mary, who lives in Lincolnshire, continues to work every day.

Homeless Men by Mary Fitzpayne

“My mum had decided she wanted to be an artist from 11-years-old,” said Käthe. “She was absolutely determined. She is so grateful for what Leeds gave her; ‘profoundly grateful’ for the grounding and training that they gave. She was very happy there, very happy indeed. She said there was an Epstein sculpture of Jacob Kramer in the college and she would touch his nose when she went past for good luck.

“My mother is one of the few artists left who knows how to draw in the traditional way. That’s down to Leeds College of Art.”

The art school, whose former students also include Damien Hirst, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, is marking its 170th anniversary this year.

Simone Wonnacott, principal at Leeds College of Art, said: “Many of our past students, like Mary, have become successful artists and designers all over the world so we’re urging them all to get in touch with us in our 170th year to tell us their stories. We’ve also got an exciting year of activities planned to celebrate our history and heritage, including a series of alumni exhibitions.”

Mary Fitzpayne with her artist's lay figure, Belinda. PIC: Eli S-Deutsch
Circus Dogs by Mary Fitzpayne
Homeless Men by Mary Fitzpayne