Marjorie Arnfield

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Marjorie Helen Arnfield, MBE (25 November 1930 – 26 April 2001) was an English artist who specialised in both industrial and rural landscapes, painting in oil, acrylic and watercolour. Her landscapes, particularly her paintings of Provence and Spain, are characterized by vivid colours and an impressionistic style. In an interview in the magazine Artists & Illustrators in 1998, Arnfield described her palette of colours, which included ochres, burnt siennas, cadmium, viridian, reds and blues, as "colours that sing".[citation needed]


Marjorie Arnfield was born in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1930 and brought up in Sunderland, attending Sunderland Church High School.[1]

Her grandfather, great-uncle and two uncles were regional architects, responsible for many public buildings in the North East of England, including the Sunderland Empire Theatre.[2] While attending Sunderland College of Art,[3] and King Edward VII College of Art, University of Durham[3] she was taught by distinguished British artists such as Lawrence Gowing, Quentin Bell and Victor Passmore.

She travelled extensively in the Mediterranean with her late husband, Ron Arnfield. In her paintings of scenes from the Greek islands, France and Spain, she sought to capture the vibrancy of the sun and the natural colours.[3] She also used colour to depict emotion, for example in her mining paintings. Arnfield portrayed the energy and excitement of football when she was invited by Sunderland Football Club to watch one of their games in their new stadium, and then paint a picture of the match.

In a catalogue for an exhibition of Mediterranean Images at the Pierrepoint Gallery in Newark, Nottinghamshire, England in September 1996, Arnfield wrote of the visual inspiration of her passion for the Mediterranean: "Vines dotted in rows across spring landscapes; distant mountains; poppies, stark, clustered among ochre grasses; cyprus trees forming punctuation marks; mediaeval villages, pantiled roofs; ultramarine skies....fishermen crouched mending nets; images seen and felt, evoking a spirit of place."[citation needed]

Arnfield's "well-developed sense of place and sympathetic observation of people" were highlighted in the catalogue of an exhibition of her work, People and Places, at Kirkbride Gallery, Peebles, Scotland in September 1998. She spent many years teaching art to adults and schoolchildren in England and Scotland. She also took adults on painting holidays to France and the Greek islands. Disabled due to rheumatoid arthritis, her husband Ron assisted her over the years with her exhibitions and teaching.[4]

Sheila Smith, a British poet, included two poems she had written about Arnfield in "Woman Surprised by a Young Boy," a collection of poems by Smith which was published in July 2010 by Shoestring Press The first poem, "Silence is Very Loud", refers to a visit Smith made to Arnfield's new studio after Arnfield's death, and to her old studio. The second, "Death of a Painter, for Marjorie" talks about Arnfield's unique vision, her ability to see in a landscape something that no-one else could see. The title of the collection, "Woman Surprised by a Young Boy," refers to a painting by the English artist Eileen Cooper.


She was awarded the MBE in 2000, the year before her death, for her "services to art".[5]

In 2002-2003, Ron Arnfield commissioned a professional photographer to scan much of her work, including her sketchbooks. A CD-ROM, Marjorie Arnfield, A Digital Library, was then produced. A website showcasing her work was also created, but this has now lapsed.


She died on 26 April 2001 in Nottingham, aged 70. In keeping with her Christian faith, her funeral service took place at Southwell Minster, Nottinghamshire. She was survived by her son, Robin.


Of her commemorative exhibition at Nottingham University in July 2001, a review in The Times by Amber Cowan said it was among the five best one-person art exhibitions in the UK that month: "As a student in Sunderland in the Fifties, Arnfield made a series of oil sketches of miners gathering sea coal along the beach and tending their allotments. 30 years later, her bleak, desolate paintings of Nottinghamshire's doomed coalfields garnered her a reputation as one of the area's finest and most politically aware figurative painters. This retrospective also includes peaceful harbour scenes and hot Provencal landscapes painted in her later years."

Of an exhibition by Arnfield at the Mowbray Gallery in Sunderland in October 1964, a review in The Guardian stated: "Apart from a series of broad, fell country watercolours held together by a lyrical and febrile line, Arnfield, with a brief, decorous and decorative look in gouache and oil at industry in Whitehaven and Tee-side, seems most readily at home when, in pen and wash, she follows in the tradition of Raoul Dufy and John Paddy Carstairs." The review also described Arnfield as a "realist painter with an obvious appeal."

Speaking of Arnfield's English Lake District painting Hodbarrow Iron Mines and Collapsed Seawall, Babette Decker wrote that the "... work of Marjorie Arnfield was one of the most exciting discoveries for my book – an artist who opened one's eyes to the beauty of subjects one might otherwise dismiss as ugly".[6]

Marjorie Arnfield, A Celebration of her Life and Work, which was published after her death in 2001, described her pictures as "embodying a spirit of vitality, optimism and sheer 'aliveness to it all'". She also left many sketchbooks and diaries which combined extensive comments on her travels with illustrations of what she saw. In December 2009, the Durham County Local History Society featured a life of Marjorie Arnfield in Volume 6 of the Society's Durham Biographies.

In October 1958, one of Arnfield's paintings, Landscape, County Durham, was selected for the Northern Young Artists exhibition that took place in October–November 1958 at the Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield. The Manchester artist L.S. Lowry was honorary president of the Northern Young Artists at that time, and was one of three people on the selection board that chose Arnfield's painting. In its catalogue for the 1965 summer exhibition of Arnfield's Lake District paintings, the Netherhall Centre in Maryport, Cumbria, spoke of Arnfield's "appreciation of Cumbria's beauty and her up-to-date impressions of the industrial and social scene," which included a painting of the atomic power station at Sellafield.[citation needed]

Coal mining[edit]

In the early 1990s Arnfield was deeply affected by the demise of the British coal industry, following the government's decision to privatize British Coal, operator of the UK’s coal mines. She decided to capture through her art something of the power and history of the mining industry, which was once a major contributor to the British economy.[7]

In Marjorie Arnfield: Artist's Statement, a document produced for an exhibition at Bishop Auckland Town Hall in 1999, Arnfield wrote that, prior to commencing her mining paintings, she turned to the writings of D. H. Lawrence, some of whose novels had been strongly influenced by the East Midlands coal mines. "The disappearance of the pits that Lawrence knew (following the demise of the British coal mining industry) led me to explore the use of archival photographs as a source material for my paintings of miners at work", Arnfield wrote.

In 1994, British Coal sponsored Arnfield’s exhibition A Tribute to Coal Mining in Nottinghamshire at Nottingham University's Djanogly Art Gallery. She then held a further 20 exhibitions of her mining art under the title "Images of Coal" at museums and art galleries across the UK. In her mining paintings, Marjorie Arnfield focused on historical mining methods, social aspects of mining communities, and the demolition of the pits. Her mining paintings were purchased by private collections, museums and art galleries. Opening an exhibition of Arnfield's coal mining art at Woodhorn Colliery Museum, journalist Kate Adie said "It is only through Marjorie's images that young people of future generations will learn about this once-great industry [of coal-mining]."[8]

At an exhibition of her work in Sunderland in 1997, Arnfield commented, "Pitheads, coal-blackened miners returning home, men scavenging for sea coal on beaches remain as vivid memories from my childhood and art school days in the North-East."[9] According to The Artists of Northumbria, Arnfield was one of the few British women artists to show a particular interest in the theme of coal mining.[7]

In July 2007, the Public Catalogue Foundation said it would include a photograph of Arnfield's Keep The Pits Open: Protest painting in its forthcoming Oil Paintings in Public Ownership: West Yorkshire catalogue. The painting itself is held in the National Coal Mining Museum for England in Wakefield, West Yorkshire.

In September 2010, the Woodhorn Museum held a two-month exhibition of mining paintings titled Shafts of Light, which included "Marjorie Arnfield's powerful perspective on the Miner's Strike," a museum press release announced ( The bulk of the artwork on show was part of the Gemini Collection owned and administered by Robert McManners and Gillian Wales. McManners and Wales are authors of "Shafts of Light," a book about mining artists which includes Arnfield.

Examples of Marjorie Arnfield's coal mining art can be seen on the BBC's Your Paintings website, which is operated in partnership with the Public Catalogue Foundation

Paintings on display[edit]

Paintings by Arnfield held in public galleries, as given by the Public Catalogue Foundation, September 2010:[citation needed]

Title Date Collection Catalogue
Water Gardens, Westhorpe, Suffolk 2002 Southwell Town Council Nottinghamshire
Bonnieuz Provence, France Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust Nottinghamshire
Blue Flax Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust Nottinghamshire
Miners and Dogs Rotherham Museum & Art Gallery South Yorkshire
Save Our Pits c.1995 Rotherham Museum & Art Gallery South Yorkshire
The last Shift Nottinghamshire County Teaching Primary Care Trust Nottinghamshire
Desolation, Pleaseley Colliery, Nottinghamshire Nottinghamshire County Teaching Primary Care Trust Nottinghamshire
Rufford Colliery Demolition c.1993 Nottinghamshire County Teaching Primary Care Trust Nottinghamshire
Breaking the Coal (c.1920) c.1993 Nottinghamshire County Teaching Primary Care Trust Nottinghamshire
Woodhorn Colliery Museum Northumberland Collections Service Northumberland, Tees Valley & Tyne and Wear
Keep the Pits Open, Protest National Coal Mining Museum for England West Yorkshire
Landscape, County Durham Mima Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art Northumberland, Tees Valley & Tyne and Wear
Conservatory, Blackhouse Park, Sunderland, Tyne and Wear c.1950 Southwell Town Council Nottinghamshire
Industrial Landscape, Whitehaven Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens Tyne and Wear Museums
Cadaqués, Spain (1) 2000 University of Nottingham Nottinghamshire

Further reading[edit]

  • Coal Faces Mining Lives. Portraits of an industry and its people, Imogen D. Townsend. The National Mining Museum for England Trust Ltd 2005. ISBN 1-872925-10-3
  • Shafts of Light: Mining Art in the Great Northern Coalfield, Robert McManners and Gillian Wales, Gemini Productions, 2002. ISBN 978-0-9532217-1-4
  • The Artists of Northumbria, Marshall Hall, Art Dictionaries, Bristol, England, 2005. ISBN 0-9532609-9-2
  • Marjorie Arnfield, A Celebration of her Life and Work, Djanogly Art Gallery, Nottingham University, 2001. ISBN 1-900809-95-8
  • St Ives Journey, Artists & Illustrators, September 2000, ISSN 02694697
  • In Conversation, Marjorie Arnfield, The Artist, March 1999, ISSN 00043877
  • Testament To Coal, Artists & Illustrators, October 1998, ISSN 02694697
  • Marjorie Arnfield, National Coal Mining Museum for England, May 1998
  • Marjorie Arnfield, Artist's Statement, written by the artist about her personal reasons for her mining art, and published for an exhibition at Bishop Auckland Town Hall, 1999.
  • An Artist's Retreat, Woman and Home Magazine, February 1995
  • Durham Biographies Volume 6, Durham County Historical Society, December 2009

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "Biography for Marjorie Arnfield". Retrieved 2008-06-04. 
  2. ^ Robinson, Alistair (2000). Sunderland Empire. TUPS Books. 
  3. ^ a b c Marjorie Arnfield, a Celebration of Her Life and Work. Djanogly Art Gallery, Nottingham University. 2001. ISBN 978-1-900809-95-5. 
  4. ^ "Obituary of Ron Arnfield". The Guardian. 2006-05-01. Retrieved 2009-01-28. 
  5. ^ "NewYears Honours MBE civil (A-C)". BBC. 1999-12-31. Retrieved 2008-11-13. 
  6. ^ Decker, Babette (2005-06-28). "Hodbarrow Iron Mines and Collapsed Seawall by Marjorie Arnfield". The Journal. Retrieved 2009-07-23. 
  7. ^ a b Hall, Marshall (2005). The Artists of Northumbria. Art Dictionaries Ltd. ISBN 978-0-9532609-9-7. 
  8. ^ "Tribute to the mining heroes". Evening Chronicle. 1997-05-19. Retrieved 2009-01-29. 
  9. ^ "Kate in the frame". The Journal. 1997-07-03. Retrieved 2009-07-23.