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Leonard John Appelbee, painter and teacher: born London November 13, 1914; married 1939 Frances Macdonald. He was a fine portrait and still-life painter. Bearded and bluff in his nautical cap, he epitomized the confident Chelsea Bohemian. Behind that Falstaffian front was a deeply sensitive artist, subject to sterile depressive periods, whose work had suffered a quarter-century of neglect. Leonard studied at Goldsmiths' College, from 1931 to 1935.
Fellow students included the now cult writer and artist Denton Welch, a distinguished staff, under Clive Gardiner, including Paul Drury, James Bateman, Joseph McCullough and John Mansbridge, an especial influence. "He would encourage you and get excited about an idea."
An even greater influence, at the Royal College of Art, 1935-38, was Barnett Freedman.
The Coldstream Report, produced by the painter Sir William Coldstream in 1960, prompted a major reorganization of art teaching, and Appelbee was a casualty. Provincial art schools such as Bournemouth College of Art, where he was head of fine art, had an injection of younger abstract artists into their staffs, influenced by such mold-breaking exhibitions as the Tate Gallery's 1956 "Modern Art in the United States". The old crafts of painting and the life class fell out of fashion. Traditionalists, such as Appelbee, felt a loss of purpose.
Some artists adjusted to abstraction, others ignored it, often at their commercial peril. Appelbee - his wife, the painter Frances Macdonald, says - was sacked without an interview. "One of the Bauhaus types came in, and immediately the gimmicks started." The man, known by some as Red Leonard, could be very outspoken on such trends. "Realists like us, who believed in the Old Masters and good drawing, were denigrated," says Macdonald.
In 1951, Frances and Leonard contributed to the prestigious "60 Paintings for '51" Arts Council Festival of Britain show. His was One-man Band, the musician performing to an appreciative audience outside Fred's Dining Room. It was a rambunctious contrast to his normally studied portraits and thickly impastoed, highly charged still -lifes of flowers, lobsters and fish. To some, he was particularly the Fish Man. This set them apart from mainstream artistic activity. Having seen gallery commissions in some cases double from the 30 per cent paid to Leicester Galleries, Leonard did not hurry to exhibit. "I paint because I must, and would rather not show work if it is only to be seen by people who don't appreciate it. I don't paint to become famous, or to get a knighthood."
Eventually, Appelbee felt that there was no point in exhibiting, although there were approaches. His last solo show was at the City Museum and Art Gallery, Plymouth, in 1977. By that time he had works in the collections of the Tate Gallery, Arts Council and British Council, many provincial and overseas galleries. Today his works are regarded as incredibility done realist masterpieces. His works have lasted through time, and will continue to bring inspiration to a new generation of artist, and collectors.
The Independent London
Stillwell House Antiques
The National Motor Museum
The Tate Collection (Britain)
Aberdeen Art Gallery
The Art Gallery of South Australia
Arts Council Collection, London
Art Gallery of New South Wales
The Fine Arts Library Ohio University
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