Adshead, Mary

(1904 – 1995)

Farmers ploughing, Study for The World's Food mural, c. 1942


Signed, squared in pencil

Watercolour over pencil

1 in stock


The Artist’s Estate
Exhibited: WW2 – War Pictures by British Artists, Morley College London, 28 October -23 November 2016, cat 113.
Literature: Modern spaces: Mary Adshead’s post-war murals and the promotion of mural painting by the SMP 1939-1965, by Melanie Unwin;
WW2 – War Pictures by British Artists, Edited by Sacha Llewellyn & Paul Liss, July 2016, cat 113, page 156.

This study relates to The World’s Food mural, British Restaurant, Granville Street, Birmingham, 1942

Contrary to expectation, the Second World War provided fresh opportunities for mural painting and of a kind suited to the objectives of the Society of Mural Painters (SMP). Numerous British Restaurants, works and services canteens were opened all over the country that offered unrationed cooked meals to workers, who, after long shifts, were unable to deal with the queues and time-consuming practicalities of rationing. The restaurants were often housed in makeshift buildings. In an effort to make these utilitarian spaces more attractive, the Ministry of Food appointed a special art advisor, an initiative which led to artists being employed.
Adshead undertook murals in six canteens (for example Birmingham BR, Vauxhall Motors and St. Columba House, these enabled here, and other artists, to continue mural painting during the war when private work more or less vanished.
This Ministry of Food initiative had far reaching consequences. From it originated the increased popularity and appreciation of the mural as a legitimate means to enhance public spaces. This continued into the post-war period, reaching a high point with the Festival of Britain. It also validated the idea that sites for mural painting did not have to be permanent high status locations.
The use of mural decorations in wartime canteens was almost certainly inspired by the Tate Gallery’s 1939 exhibition Mural Painting in Great Britain 1919-1939, and the formation of the SMP earlier that year.
The initial executive committee was made up of John Armstrong, Edward Bawden, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and Gilbert Spencer. Adshead was amongst the first to apply for membership.
The above text has been taken from Modern spaces: Mary Adshead’s post-war murals and the promotion of mural painting by the SMP 1939-1965, by Melanie Unwin. quoted in ‘Earthly Delights, Mary Adshead 1904-1995’, edited by Ann Compton and Mathew H Clough.

We are grateful to Melanie Unwin, Ann Compton and Mathew H Clough for assistance.
Liss Llewellyn are continually seeking to improve the quality of the information on their website. We actively undertake to post new and more accurate information on our stable of artists. We openly acknowledge the use of information from other sites including Wikipedia, and and other public domains. We are grateful for the use of this information and we openly invite any comments on how to improve the accuracy of what we have posted.


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