Rory McEwen (artist)

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Rory McEwen
BornRoderick McEwen
(1932-03-12)12 March 1932
Died16 October 1982(1982-10-16) (aged 50)
ResidenceMarchmont House
Alma materEton College
Trinity College Cambridge
OccupationArtist, musician
Spouse(s)
Romana von Hofmannsthal
(m. 1958; his death 1982)
ChildrenAdam McEwen
Parent(s)Lady Bridget Mary McEwen
Sir John McEwen
RelativesMary McEwen (sister)
Sir Francis Lindley (grandfather)

Roderick McEwen or Rory McEwen (12 March 1932 – 16 October 1982) was a Scottish artist and musician.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Marchmont House, the McEwan family home

Roderick McEwen was the fourth of seven children born to Lady Bridget Mary McEwen and Sir John Helias Finnie McEwen.[2] His mother was daughter of Sir Francis Oswald Lindley and granddaughter of botanist and illustrator John Lindley, who in 1840 was instrumental in saving The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew from destruction.[1]

McEwen was educated at the family home, Marchmont House, by a French governess named Mademoiselle Philippe, and at Eton where he was taught by Wilfred Blunt who described him as "perhaps the most gifted artist to pass through my hands".[1] After his National Service in The Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders, he gained a degree in English at Trinity College Cambridge, where, among others, he became friends with Karl Miller, Dudley Moore, Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller and Mark Boxer.[1]

Career[edit]

In 1955 he wrote and performed in Between the Lines at the 1955 Cambridge Footlights Revue production at the Scala Theatre in London.[2]

In 1956, he travelled with his younger brother Alexander on the Cunarder Ascania to New York in search of Huddie William Leadbetter's widow, Martha. When they found her she was so impressed by their understanding of, and skill at, playing her late husband's music, that she allowed Rory to play Leadbelly's custom-made 12-string Stella guitar, inspiring him to set off to find his own. The brothers played their way across America, cutting 'Scottish Songs and Ballads' for Smithsonian Folkways Records, and appearing on the coast-to-coast Ed Sullivan Show on CBS, twice, before returning home to Britain.[2]

By 1957, McEwen had become one of the leading lights in the post-war folksong revival, and was a regular on the daily BBC Tonight TV programme presented by Cliff Michelmore, writing and performing topical calypsos, whilst also working as the art editor for the Spectator magazine.

In the early 1960s, Rory and Alex hosted their own live shows to sell-out audiences at three successive Edinburgh Festivals. George Melly, the Clancy Brothers, Dave Swarbrick (later of Fairport Convention), Bob Davenport and the Americans Dick Farina and Carolyn Hester were among their guests.

Between 1959 and 1963, Rory presented and performed on the seminal folk and blues music programme Hullabaloo for commercial ATV television.[3]

Among his closest artist friends were Jim Dine, Brice Marden, Cy Twombly,[4] Robert Graham, Kenneth Armitage, Derek Boshier and David Novros. Among close poet friends were the Portuguese Alberto de Lacerda and the Americans Kenneth Koch and Ron Padgett. It was typical of Rory McEwen's Scottish internationalism and versatility that, as an offshoot of his admiration for Indian music, George Harrison took sitar lessons from Ravi Shankar in his house, and that he explored Bhutan in the last days before tourism.[2]

Painting[edit]

From 1964, he decided to devote himself entirely to his career in visual art, his floral interest also finding expression in colour-refracting perspex sculpture and large abstract works in glass and steel using perspex.[4] In painting he forged his own interpretation of international minimalism, creating works of exquisite beauty in watercolour on velum, of flowers, leaves and vegetables.[5][6]

His work is in the British Museum, V&A, Tate Gallery, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Hunt Institute, Pittsburgh and MOMA, New York, among other collections.[7]

Influenced[edit]

Younger artists such as Billy Connolly, Van Morrison and Eric Burdon of the Animals are just some of those who admit to the influence Rory and Alex had on their formative years. Rory, inspired by Leadbelly, was probably the first person to play 12-string acoustic guitar on TV in Britain.

Personal life[edit]

On 15 April 1958, Rory married debutante Romana von Hofmannsthal (d. 2014),[8] a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College.[9] She was the daughter of Raimond von Hofmannsthal and Ava Alice Astor. Her grandparents were Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Strauss's librettist and founder of the Salzburg Festival, and Americans Ava Lowle Willing (who later became Lady Ribblesdale) and John Jacob Astor IV, the multi-millionaire investor, inventor and writer, who drowned on the Titanic.[9] Together, they were the parents of:

  • Flora Mary Alice McEwen (b. 1959), who married Anthony David Willard Mason.
  • Samantha Mary McEwen (b. 1960), an actress.[10]
  • Christabel Mary McEwen (b. 1962), who married Edward Lambton, 7th Earl of Durham. They divorced in 1995 and in 2005 she married the musician Jools Holland.[11]
  • Adam Hugo McEwen (b. 1965), an artist and curator.[12]

In the summer of 1982 McEwen was diagnosed with terminal cancer.[3] On 16 October, suffering and in a state of despair, he threw himself under a train at South Kensington tube station. He was 50.[13]

Publications[edit]

  • Tulips and Tulipomania, with Wilfred Blunt
  • Old Carnations and Pinks with Oscar C. Moreton (and an introduction by Sacheverell Sitwell)
  • The Auricula, Its History and Character with Oscar C. Moreton
  • From the Air with Kenneth Koch
  • Rory McEwen The Colours of Reality edited by Martyn Rix

Exhibitions[edit]

  • 1962: Durlacher Bros., New York
  • 1964:
Andre Weill Gallery, Paris
The Hunt Botanical Library, Pittsburgh
National Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh
Gateway Theatre, Edinburgh
  • 1965: Durlacher Bros., New York
  • 1966: Douglas and Foulis, Edinburgh
  • 1967:
Richard Demarco Gallery, Edinburgh
Byron Gallery, New York
  • 1968:
Richard Demarco Gallery, Edinburgh
Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf
  • 1969: Richard Demarco Gallery, Edinburgh
  • 1970: Richard Demarco Gallery, Edinburgh
  • 1971: Scottish Arts Council
  • 1972:
Redfern Gallery, London
Sonnabend Gallery, New York
  • 1974:
Redfern Gallery, London
Tooth's Gallery, London
  • 1975: Oxford Gallery, Oxford
  • 1976: Redfern Gallery, London
  • 1977: Oxford Gallery, Oxford
  • 1978: ICA, London
  • 1979: Taranman Gallery, London
  • 1980: Nihonbash Gallery, Tokyo
  • 1981:
Redfern Gallery, London
Fischer Fine Art. London
  • 1982:
Steampfli Gallery, New York
Wave Hill, New York
  • 1983: Hunt Institute, Pittsburgh
  • 1984: Museum of Modern Art, New York
  • 1988: Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh, and the Serpentine Gallery, London
  • 2013: Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art at Kew Gardens, London[14]

Discography[edit]

  • Rory and Alex McEwen, Scottish Songs and Ballads, Smithsonian Folkways Records 1957
  • Rory and Alex McEwen and Isla Cameron, Folksong Jubilee, His Master's Voice 1958
  • Rory and Alex McEwen, and Carolyne and Dick Farina,Four For Fun, Waverly Records 1963
  • Jim Dine and Rory McEwen, Songs, Poems and Prints, Museum of Modern Art, New York 1969

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d "RORY MCEWEN THE COLOURS OF REALITY: An Exhibition at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art". Curtis's Botanical Magazine. The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 30 (2): 139–147. 2013. doi:10.1111/curt.12028. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d "Rory McEwen | Biography". www.rorymcewen.com. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  3. ^ a b "Folk superstar and truth-seeking artist: The real Rory McEwen". BBC Arts. 8 December 2017. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  4. ^ a b Lambirth, Andrew (29 June 2013). "Exhibition review: Rory McEwen: the botanical artist who influenced Van Morrison". The Spectator. Retrieved 17 January 2014.
  5. ^ Blunt, Wilfrid; Stearn, William Thomas (1950). The Art of Botanical Illustration: An Illustrated History. London: Courier Corporation. ISBN 9780486272658. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  6. ^ Blunt, Wilfrid (1977). Tulips & Tulipomania. London: Basilisk Press. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  7. ^ Blossfeldt, K., K. (1929). Urformen der Kunst: Photographische Pflanzenbilder. Berlin: Verlag Ernst Wasmuth A.G. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  8. ^ "Paid Notice: Deaths
    MCEWEN, ROMANA"
    . The New York Times. November 30, 2014. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  9. ^ a b "NIECE OF ASTOR IS FUTURE BRIDE; Romana von Hofmannstahl Engaged to Rory McEwen, Spectator's Art Director". The New York Times. 22 October 1957. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  10. ^ "Samantha McEwen". IMDb.com. IMDB.com. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  11. ^ Kavanagh, Joanne (15 November 2017). "A look at the rise and rise of singer and TV star Jools Holland". The Sun. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  12. ^ Smith, Roberta (16 September 2005). "Art in Review; Interstate". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  13. ^ Mark Hudson (9 May 2013). "Flowers and rock and roll: The botanical art of Rory McEwen". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 27 April 2015.
  14. ^ Amy Dyduch (17 May 2013). "Camilla at Kew Gardens for celebration of Rory McEwen". Richmond and Twickenham Times. London. Retrieved 4 July 2013.