Family's delight as rare framed mural by DMU artist is unveiled in city art gallery

A rare painting by a much-admired artist who studied and then taught at the precursors to De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) has gone on display in the city, to the delight of his family.                          

The huge artwork, called Newborn, was painted in fantastically vivid oils on hardboard by artist Rigby Graham, in honour of his niece Corisande who was born two months premature at the time.

RIGBY - family pic

Rigby Graham's Newborn with niece Ondine and daughter Eleonor

Mr Graham studied at the Leicester School of Art, based in the Hawthorn Building, and went on to teach when the school became Leicester Polytechnic.

He was the only student on the Mural Painting course in 1956 and much of his large-scale works were seen around the city on the walls of schools, inside Leicester Royal Infirmary and in the Hawthorn Building itself.

Newborn is unique in Rigby’s body of work as it is a mural painted on board which was then framed. It took pride of place in a flat in York rented by his sister Corisande, her husband and their daughter, also called Corisande, before being kept in a derelict Methodist chapel in Harrogate, which Rigby’s architect brother-in-law was converting

The unveiling of the painting at the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery was seen by his daughter Eleonora Graham, who lives in Leicester, and his niece Ondine Gordon-White, from Harrogate.

Ondine said: “It is home. That’s how it feels. It’s home. He would have loved that Newborn is hanging in the gallery. I’ve never lived in Leicester myself but I always call it home because of Uncle Rig and the family’s connections to the city.

“I love the colour and the shape and the sheer size of it. There is a rat catcher in the foreground chasing a rat and I loved looking at that as a child."

Daughter Eleonora said: "Most people would probably have called the mural The Rat Catcher because of the scene in the foreground but he called it Newborn after the small figure of Corisande and her child wrapped in swaddling, running through this fantastical street.

RIGBY - just picture resized

The framed mural with the rat catcher and rat in the foreground 

“My father liked to focus on the smallest details in his murals that people would not normally see.

“He travelled and painted and exhibited all around the world but he always came back to Leicester. He loved Leicester College of Art and he enjoyed Leicester Polytechnic - but he didn’t like all the meetings. So, he used to leave his jacket and briefcase in his office and travel around the city visiting all of his students on placements.

“My father never made very much money from his murals. His work was in about 13 different buildings around Leicester and it could take months to complete each one and yet the most he was paid was £10.

“He didn’t really want much and his money went on paint, canvas, whisky and Persian rugs, and that was it.

“My dad was asked to paint a mural around a linear accelerator at the Leicester Royal Infirmary, which is a piece of equipment for treatment of cancer. It was a difficult job and had to be completed in sections to fit around the ceiling above this machine, which was the size of an MRI scanner.

“He was diagnosed with cancer some years later and he said the worst bit of the treatment was he had to lie on his back and look up at ‘that bloody mural’ and spot all the mistakes he had made.

RIGBY - close up resized

Close-up of Corisande and her newborn running through fantastical streets

“He loved his students and right up into his later life people would knock on his door to find out how he was. I think he would be chuffed to bits to see Newborn on  display in Leicester.”

Rigby Graham was born in Stretford, Manchester, in 1931, but spent most of his life in Leicestershire

In the 1960s and 1970s Graham illustrated some 300 books including a book about Leicestershire in which he had painted numerous scenes from around the city and county. One of these books is kept at Leicester Museum and Art Gallery.

Rigby never received the wider critical attention or financial reward he perhaps deserved in his lifetime but he has left a legacy which is now being considered as sopme of the best and emotive artworks of the late 20th century.

Graham was appointed an MBE in 2010. He died on May 7, 2015.

Newborn was purchased from Ondine Alisia Gordon-White and Corisande Lucia Gordon with the assistance of the Art Fund, Ace / V&A Purchase Grant Fund and City of Leicester Museum Trust.


Posted on Tuesday 6th February 2024

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