Mary Potter 1900-1981

Painter of landscapes, seascapes, still-life, interiors and portraits in oils and watercolours. Mary Potter was born in Beckenham, Kent on the 9th April 1900, Marian Attenborough (called Mary) and studied at Beckenham School of Art in 1916 and at the Slade School (under Tonks and Steer) 1918-20. Whilst at the Slade she was awarded first prize for portrait painting and a place in a New English Art Club exhibition.

Mary later married writer Stephen Potter and with their two sons (Andrew and Julian) continued to paint as she wished. It was while living by the Thames in Chiswick from 1927 that she began to dabble with the watery vision which she would explore for the rest of her life. An early member of the London Group Mary Potter also showed allegiance to the 7 & 5 Society.

In 1951 the Potters moved to Aldeburgh where they lived at The Red House and became close friends of Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears. Six years later, after the break-up of her marriage, Mary swapped houses with Britten and Pears, moving to Crag House on the sea-front.

She exhibited with the 7 & 5 Society in 1922 and 1923, at the NEAC (New English Art Club) from 1920 and with the LG (London Group) from 1927. Her first solo exhibition was at the Bloomsbury Gallery in 1931, though she remained unaligned with any artistic movement throughout her lifetime.

Potter subsequently showed in London galleries from the 1930s on. She had more or less regular shows with a succession of highly respected dealers - including Tooth's, the Leicester Galleries and the New Art Centre. By 1940, her work was in the Tate, and in 1964, she filled the Whitechapel with her first full retrospective exhibition. Her work was exhibited at the Tate Gallery in 1980, at the Serpentine Gallery in 1981, also in the provinces and a prize winner at the John Moores Exhibition in 1981.

Influenced by Klee and by Oriental painting, her work combined commitment to subject, light and atmosphere with growing abstraction. She used light, pale-toned colour and thin paint to depict ethereal, light suffused forms. According to her son, Julian Potter, "she rarely painted a direct light source, preferring it diffused or reflected back from a rough surface, or hovering, ghost-like, in shadow. She tended to mix white with her colours because she preferred them to be opaque and earthly. Her colours, too are offbeat, not natural. Greens but with lilacs, salmon with grey. The tonal closeness of these hues allow the warmer tints to glow, the cool to recede. In Potter's work the spatial play, the overlapping webs of colour, the surprising pure notes suddenly discovered, all create a sensation of vitality that is absorbing and astringent."

She is now recognised as one of the foremost women painters of her time


7 & 5 Society

British exhibiting society formed in 1919 by a group of 18 painters and sculptors, many of them ex-servicemen who had been art students at the outbreak of World War I. A total of 87 artists were variously involved in its 14 exhibitions. Ivon Hitchens was among those represented in the first show at Walker's Galleries in 1920, and it was he who recruited Ben Nicholson four years later. Elected chairman in 1926, Nicholson was to dominate the 7 & 5 for the rest of its existence. Winifred Nicholson joined in 1925, Christopher Wood in 1926, David Jones in 1928 and Frances Hodgkins in 1929. The work of these six painters best represents the type of work associated with the 7 & 5 at the end of the 1920s. In 1935 it was renamed the Seven and Five Abstract Group and held the first all abstract exhibition in Britain at the Zwemmer Gallery in London.