Ruskin Spear

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Ruskin Spear

Augustus John Ruskin Spear

(1911-06-30)30 June 1911
Died16 January 1990(1990-01-16) (aged 78)[1]
Hammersmith, London, England
EducationRoyal College of Art
Known forPainting, drawing
Notable workCitizen James (1962);[2] Francis Bacon (1984)[3]
ChildrenRoger Ruskin Spear

Ruskin Spear, CBE, RA (30 June 1911 – 16 January 1990) was an English painter and teacher of art, regarded as one of the foremost British portrait painters of his day.[4][5] He is the father of Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band member Roger Ruskin Spear.


Early life and education[edit]

Born in Hammersmith to a working-class family, Spear was the youngest of five children. Spear contracted polio at the age of two,[6] and later attended the local Brook Green (PD) School, a London County Council school for the "Physically Defective".[7] Awarded an LCC scholarship to the Hammersmith School of Art,[8] Spear followed on with studies at the Royal College of Art, where he later was made a Royal Academician and tutor. Spear attended the local art school before going on to the Royal College of Art in 1930.


He began his teaching career at Croydon School of Art, later teaching at the Royal College of Art from 1948 to 1975, where his students included Sandra Blow.[9]


Initially influenced by Walter Sickert, the Camden Town Group, and the portraiture of the Euston Road School, his work often has a narrative quality, with elements of humour and satire. As one of the thirty eight Official War Artists in Britain in the Second World War,[10] between 1942 and 1944, Spear was commissioned by the War Artists' Advisory Committee,[11] under the chairmanship of Kenneth Clark, given a short-term contract, producing several works for the scheme.[12]

Because he used a wheelchair due to childhood polio, much of his work concerned his immediate surroundings. He rendered the citizens of Hammersmith relaxing in and around the local pubs, theatres and shops. In 1980, a retrospective of Spear's work was held at the Royal Academy in London.

Spear's paintings are held in important public collections in the United Kingdom, including the Tate Gallery Collection, Arts Council England, National Portrait Gallery, the Imperial War Museum,[11] Government Art Collection and the Royal Academy of Arts,[13] and worldwide.

Personal life[edit]

He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1979. Spear was the father of musician Roger Ruskin Spear (born 1943). Roger Ruskin Spear would find fame in the 1960s, as a member of the Satirical group The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.


Spear died in Hammersmith on 16 January 1990, at the age of 78. The New York Times states he died following a short illness.[14]


  1. ^ "Ruskin Spear RA (1911 - 1990)". Retrieved 4 February 2023.
  2. ^ "Sid James: Ruskin Spear (1911–1990)". National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 26 January 2022.
  3. ^ "Frances Bacon: Ruskin Spear (1911–1990)". National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 26 January 2022.
  4. ^ "Ruskin Spear, 78; Painter of Portraits Was Often Satirical". The New York Times. 19 January 1990. p. B 8. Retrieved 1 April 2022.
  5. ^ "The Contemporary Situation". The Burlington Magazine. 97 (627). Burlington Magazine Publications Ltd.: 164 June 1955. JSTOR 871633. Retrieved 25 January 2022 – via JSTOR.
  6. ^ Harrod, Tanya (2022). Harrison, Martin (ed.). Humankind: Ruskin Spear – class, culture and art in 20th century Britain. Studies in Art. London: The Estate of Francis Bacon Publishing; Thames & Hudson Limited. ISBN 978-0-500-97119-2.
  7. ^ Harrod, Tanya. "Why do British galleries shun the humane, generous art of Ruskin Spear?". The Spectator. London: The Spectator (1828) Ltd. Retrieved 25 January 2022.
  8. ^ Levy, Mervyn (1985). Ruskin Spear. The Royal Academy Painters and Sculptors. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 9780297787310.
  9. ^ Mihajlovic, Maja (1997). Gaze, Delia (ed.). Dictionary of Women Artists. Vol. 1. United Kingdom: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers. p. 277.
  10. ^ "World War II: Official War Artists". National Portrait Gallery. The National Portrait Gallery Company. Retrieved 26 January 2022.
  11. ^ a b Foss, Brian (2007). War Paint: Art, War, State and Identity in Britain, 1939-1945. Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art; Yale University Press. pp. 70–71, 105. ISBN 9780300108903.
  12. ^ Brian Frederick, Foss (1991). British Artists and the Second World War. With Particular Reference to the War Artists' Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Information: A thesis submitted to University College London, in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Ph.D., History of Art (PDF). Imperial War Museums Collections (Thesis). University College, London. Archived from the original on 26 January 2022. Retrieved 26 January 2022.
  13. ^ Vaizey, Marina (2004). "Spear, (Augustus John) Ruskin (1911–1990), artist and teacher of art". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/39968. Retrieved 25 January 2022. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  14. ^ "Ruskin Spear, 78; Painter of Portraits Was Often Satirical". The New York Times. Associated Press. 19 January 1990. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 24 March 2023.

Further reading[edit]

  • Harrod, Tanya (2022). Harrison, Martin (ed.). Humankind: Ruskin Spear – class, culture and art in 20th century Britain. London: EFB Publishing/Thames & Hudson.
  • Levy, Mervyn (1985). Ruskin Spear. London : Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

External links[edit]