Adshead, Mary

(1904 – 1995)

Beth Tomalin

Oil on canvas
40 x 30 in. (101.5 x 76.2 cm)


From the Artist’s Estate
Mary Adshead’s figurative works often combine a fashionable Primitivism, with a fluency and humour rarely found among her contemporaries. Indeed, her portraiture has a warmth and humanity that is arguably lacking in some of her fellow Slade alumni, who tended towards a certain detachment and distance in their figure composition.
Such qualities can be seen in her Portrait of Beth Tomalin; a friend of the artist, and local of Hampstead. In the painting, Tomalin fixes the viewer with a bold stare, as her cropped, uneven hair frames a visage. Swathes of curtain fall behind the sitter, and strike a visual chord with the scarf which partially shrouds her figure. To the side, a flower ‚Äì decoratively treated and pared down to it’s essential parts ‚Äì extends towards Tomalin.
The family history of the  Tomalin makes interesting reading: Beth was married to Niles Tomalin, but left him for another man called Niles. And the first Niles got together with another woman called Beth (Elisabetta, the German emigre artist-designer who is the grandmother of architect Thomas Heatherwick). Beth’s son Nick Tomalin was a legendary journalist who was killed by a Syrian missile in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
We are grateful to James Bone for assistance.
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Adshead, Mary

1904 – 1995

Mary Adshead studied at the Slade School of Fine Art (1920’24)
under Henry Tonks (1862’1937), who in 1924 selected her for a
mural commission at Highways boys’ club in Shadwell, working
with Rex Whistler (1905’1944). 

She became a prominent muralist, creating decorations for
both public and private spaces, including the British Pavilion at
the 1937 Paris International Exhibition. She also illustrated several
books, such as The Little Boy and His House by Stephen Bone
(1904’1958) (whom she married in 1929), and made designs for
London Transport and the Post Office. 

As a noteworthy female artist, Adshead exhibited frequently
at the WIAC from the mid ‘1930s, before serving on their
committee in 1951. Working at a time when expectations of
women were still largely confined to issues of domesticity, her
prodigious professional output was noteworthy. Her approach to
mural painting ‘ especially in her choice of subjects and her colourful
palette ‘ challenged the perceived divisions which determined that
public and private spaces should necessarily be treated differently. She
was the subject of a retrospective at Liverpool Art Gallery in 2005.


Mary Adshead
The Little Boy and His House, 1936
Mary Adshead
The Landladys Daughters, Llanbedre, near Harlech, c. 1941
Mary Adshead
Lunette design for a school mural, 1930’s
Mary Adshead
Portrait of Daphne Charlton, c. 1935
Mary Adshead
Garison Lane Nursery Training School, circa 1930
Mary Adshead
Farmers ploughing, Study for The World’s Food mural, c. 1942
Mary Adshead
Scenes from the Life of Christ: Preaching the Gospel, mid-1920s