DOROTHY MEAD: Figurative Paintings (Online & by appointment)

A selection of recently rediscovered oil paintings by Dorothy Mead. Mead was a student of David Bomberg at the Borough Polytechnic alongside artists such as Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff and Dennis Creffield. She was a founder member of the Borough Group, and her paintings and drawings have featured significantly in our survey exhibtions of the Borough artists. This is our first solo presentation of her work since 2014; all works can be viewed at our London gallery. 

The group of works assembled for this online exhibition were all sourced directly from the estate of Dorothy Mead, which Waterhouse & Dodd have represented for the past 8 years. Mead was far from prolific and the entire contents of the estate were held safely in her sister’s loft for many years. Consequently we have only been able to hold one exhibition dedicated solely to her work (in 2014). Her work has proven to be extremely popular despite its often uncompromising nature. We have sold well over 60 of her paintings and drawings. Unlike many of her ‘Borough’ peers, her appeal extends far beyond the shores of the UK. Her work can be found in private collections across America, from New York to Los Angeles and Chicago, as well as public collections including Tate Britain, the Arts Council and the Government Art Collection.


Mead, partly by accident and partly by design, has proved to be a central figure in our exhibition programme over the years. Even before we begun representing her estate, we worked with artists such as Michael Taylor and Peter Archer who had been taught by her at Goldsmiths. Her work was central to the Borough exhibitions of 2015 and 2017 which in turn gave rise to invaluable connections to the families and estates of other ‘Borough’ artists. Our representation of Mead is still producing fascinating contacts. The recent exhibition of Barry Martin’s work owes much to the fact he was another of her students. Despite this, the scarcity of her work has ensured that mounting another significant presentation has been very hard.


This summer, Mead’s family made a discovery of a number of her works in an area of their loft that had been sealed off to make space for a darkroom. The works had been forgotten and left uncatalogued. From the newly re-discovered works we were able to gather a small group of paintings. These were then bought to London for cleaning and assessment and the results of this find are presented here. The works were largely figure paintings spanning the period from her enrolment at the Slade School of Art as a mature student in 1956 to her tragically early death in 1975. The group includes a number of important works, including a large oil which had been included in the inaugural John Moores Prize at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool in 1957. Mead rarely signed her work, but a number of the collected works are signed, indicating that they were either works which had been exhibited or were intended for exhibition.


The chronological span of the works is not great – less than 20 years – and there is a remarkable consistency in style. However, one can discern a development in her work which only hints at the kind of painting she might have produced had she enjoyed the longevity of some of her peers. The earliest pieces in this selection show a reductive colour palate and rather spikey, confrontational mark making. These are not aggressive paintings, but they are spirited and forceful. The figures are often wilfully awkward and colour is used sparingly to heighten its effect. Even in the early works, there is a haunting quality to the figures. Some appear spectral and almost absorbed by the environment they inhabit. Some are clearly life class studies, some are more conventional figure compositions, but all retain a rather haunting sense of place and time.


Her later works, certainly from 1967 onwards, show a definite evolution. She starts allowing colour to permeate the entire picture rather than only punctuate certain areas. Her handling of paint loosens; some of the more dynamic mark marking is knocked back and softened while a more fluid brushwork style is employed. The boundaries between the subject and the setting are blurred still further – the figures occasionally seem to be withdrawing into the pictorial space. These later works show a progression from the more overtly Bombergian early work, although one can find echo’s in paintings such as her 1970 Self Portrait with Bomberg’s own late ‘imaginative’ portraits from 1955 – works such as The Franciscan, Hear O Israel and The Vigilante (once in the collection of Mead’s great friend, Dennis Creffield, and now in the Tate collection). The late paintings of Bomberg and Mead share an emotional intensity and directness. It is fitting that her work shared a room with Bomberg and fellow Borough alumni, Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff and Dorothy Mead, during Tate Britain’s All Too Human exhibition in 2018.


Waterhouse & Dodd are proud to present this online exhibition of Mead’s work, but also invite you to visit the gallery to view the works in person, together with other paintings and drawings by the artist which we have on site at Savile Row. Although contacting the gallery to make an appointment is recomended, it is not essential.