Youngman, Nan (artist, educator)

Reference: MS 5323 & MS 5413Date: 1931-1997Extent: c.120 files

Nan Youngman was born in Maidstone, and educated at Wycombe Abbey School, before being accepted by the Slade, studying under Tonks and Steer between 1924 and 1927.  She was a Slade prize-winner in 1927 and it was while at the Slade that Youngman began to define her own lifestyle, outwardly typified by the wearing of trousers and the pudding basin haircut, which she never changed.  In 1928 Youngman began teaching part-time at Highbury Hill Girls School.  She trained to teach at the London Day Training College, and it was here that she met Marion Richardson and through her influence, she developed a strong belief in the central importance of art in the curriculum. Alongside her own artistic outputs, Youngman was a teacher, writer and art advisor, lecturer for the British Council and art examiner for local examinations boards as well as external examiner at teacher training colleges and organiser of the ‘Pictures for Schools’ exhibitions.  As an artist she continued to develop her palette-knife, and limited palette technique, though her painting was constrained by the need to earn a living.

In 1936 Youngman joined the Artists International Association, (AIA), founded in 1933 by a group of politically conscious painters, sculptors and designers, aiming to resist the rise of European Fascism and Nazism.  It was here that Youngman met Betty Rea, a sculptor, their personal relationship lasted until Betty’s death in 1965.  Youngman contributed with Quentin Bell to the debate about art education at the first British Artist Congress in 1937.

In 1944, Youngman became Art Advisor for Cambridgeshire under Henry Morris, though part-time, this job provided Youngman with a platform which led her eventually to the Chair of the Society for Education through Art, the editorship of its journal, ‘Athene’, and in 1947 to the first ‘Pictures for Schools’ exhibition.

In 1945 as their family was expanding, Youngman and Rea rented ‘Papermills’, a former mill, which became a base for new painting and sculpture from them both and a centre for the radical politics of the 1950’s Peace Movement.  In 1952 Youngman founded the Studio Workshop under the Cambridge Institute of Education, she extended the ‘Pictures for Schools’ Exhibitions to Wales and, in 1952 and 1954 undertook advisory assignments in the West Indies and West Africa for the British Council.  Youngman held her first one-person exhibition, at the Leicester Galleries in 1953, after she was encouraged to take time away from teaching to paint.  In 1955, Youngman, along with Rea, Elisabeth Vellacott, Cecil and Elizabeth Collins, John Mills and others formed the Cambridge Society of Painters and Sculptors.

After Rea’s death in 1965, Youngman bought ‘The Hawks’ in Waterbeach, changing the direction of her painting from industrial landscape towards the Fen countryside and the beaches of the Norfolk coast.  At the same time, she moved more and more towards watercolour and gouache in place of oils.  During the 1970s, Youngman wrote more – many letters and sometimes poetry and her relationship with the Welsh painter Esther Grainger became closer.  Youngman organised the ‘Mill Group’, to teach mainly amateur women painters during this period.

After her eightieth birthday Youngman found painting increasingly difficult due to cataracts and spent more time drawing meticulously observed small plants and animals.  Youngman was awarded an OBE in 1987.

Nan Youngman died in April 1995.

‘Pictures for Schools’ exhibitions began in 1947, organised to enable schools and local education authorities to buy original works of modern art by contemporary artists.  It had precedents in Youngman’s work for Morris in Cambridge and for the AIA.  She had also organised an exhibition of children’s work for Lucy Wertheim’s gallery in 1931, and Wertheim started a scheme for lending works of art to schools.  The first exhibition was at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1947 and the following year at the Tate but it was eventually established more or less regularly at the Whitechapel Art Gallery.  The shows ended in 1967.  There were Scottish ‘Pictures for Schools’, as well as Welsh ‘Pictures for Schools’ which lasted much longer.  Extraordinarily successful and nearly always paying their way, the exhibitions were selected from an open submission and were some of the best ‘mixed’ shows of their period.  Artists like Frances Hodgkins, Winifred Nicholson, Claude Rogers, Duncan Grant, Richard Eurich and John Minton showed together with then young unknowns such as William Townsend, George Fullard and Sandra Blow, alongside Peter Peri and Betty Rea.

Information taken from the booklet entitled ‘Nan Youngman 1906-1995’, (MS 5323/113).

More information

  • A full description for MS 5323 is available on our online database
  • A description for MS 5413 is available on our online database
  • A handlist for MS 5323 is available here