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Ruskin Spear CBE RA PLG (1911-1990)

Augustus John Ruskin Spear, CBE RA PLG (1911-1990)

Whatever subject he was tackling – be it human or animal, interior or townscape – Ruskin Spear observed it closely, and brought it to life, injecting an element of narrative and often humour. He cultivated his down-to-earth realism in the pubs and streets of Hammersmith, and passed it on to his many students.

Styling himself ‘a working-class Cockney’, Ruskin Spear was born at 16 Overstone Road, Hammersmith, London, on 30 June 1911, the only son and youngest of five children of Augustus Spear, a coach builder and coach painter, and his wife, Matilda Jane (née Lemon), a cook. An attack of polio as a child gave him a permanent limp, so he attended Brook Green School ‘for physically defective children’, which is where his artistic talent was first recognised.

At the age of 15, Spear won a scholarship to Hammersmith School of Art. Four years later, in 1930, another scholarship took him to the Royal College of Art, and he studied there under William Rothenstein, Gilbert Spencer and Charles Mahoney.

While at the RCA, Spear worked as an assistant to another of its teachers, Alfred Egerton Cooper. He was also influenced by Walter Sickert in his choice of low-life subject matter and satirical approach.

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