Leonard Mccomb


Artist known for his work in many dif­fer­ent me­dia

Born: Au­gust 3, 1930;

Died: June 19, 2018

LEONARD Mccomb, who has died aged 87, was an artist whose work cov­ered a wide field – he was ac­knowl­edged as a teacher and sculp­tor but also as a gifted prac­ti­tioner of por­traits, land­scapes, still lives, pen­cils draw­ings, inks, oils and wa­ter­colours.

He ad­mit­ted he did not fit eas­ily into any one cat­e­gory: “Ev­ery­thing I make is a por­trait, whether I paint a hu­man head or a flower.’’

He was Keeper of the Royal Academy and sup­ported tra­di­tional fig­u­ra­tive work rather than more ide­al­is­tic con­cep­tual art. His art was widely ad­mired and hung in many lead­ing col­lec­tions. All Mccomb’s works, in what­ever me­dia, showed his love of colour and his minute ob­ser­va­tion of the sub­ject.

Leonard Wil­liam Joseph Mccomb was born in Glas­gow, the el­dest of six chil­dren, to Ir­ish par­ents and brought up in Manch­ester. He was an en­thu­si­as­tic painter and af­ter na­tional ser­vice in the RAF took some land­scapes in 1949 to a Lon­don gallery who were im­pressed.

How­ever, Mccomb had reser­va­tions. “I lined the 12 paint­ings up,” the artist re­called. “I looked at him and he looked at me. Then I gath­ered them up, put them back in the brown pa­per par­cel I had brought them in and said, ‘I’ll come back and see you in 10 years’ time.’ And the dealer said, ‘Do, young man. How nice.’”

In fact, Mccomb was clearly un­happy with his early works as he burnt many in a fire in the gar­den. Luck­ily, one of his sis­ters re­trieved a few.

One early work that was not de­stroyed was Por­trait of a Young Man Stand­ing. The mag­nif­i­cent gilded nude sculp­ture was an out­stand­ing work of ten­der beauty and was first seen in Lin­coln Cathe­dral in 1990.

Mccomb draped a loin cloth round it but the Dean of the cathe­dral thought it “in­de­cent” and the artist with­drew it. Lon­don’s Tate Gallery im­me­di­ately of­fered it a per­ma­nent home.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, 20 years later the sculp­ture was once more seen in a cathe­dral – this time Glouces­ter – when it caused lit­tle con­tro­versy and was much ad­mired.

The cre­ation of this mag­nif­i­cent work took Mccomb many years to com­plete. In 1963 he cast it in plas­ter and in 1977 in bronze which was then mag­nif­i­cently gilded by his wife. The work had huge sig­nif­i­cance for him – he de­scribed it as an at­tempt to cre­ate an im­age of a whole per­son.

He gave the sculp­ture an air of mys­tery through its be­guil­ing stature – the eyes glanc­ing slightly up­wards while one hand clenched and the other re­laxed. It rep­re­sented the spirit, and in­no­cence, of youth.

In 1976 an ex­hi­bi­tion en­ti­tled Leonard Mccomb, Draw­ing Paint­ing Sculp­tors came to the Fruit Mar­ket Gallery in Ed­in­burgh. The Hay­ward Gallery’s cel­e­brated Hu­man Clay ex­hi­bi­tion came to the Tal­bot Rice Gallery in Ed­in­burgh in 2004. Mccomb pro­duced an il­lus­trated book to ac­com­pany the show with a fine self-por­trait on the cover.

Mccomb gave draw­ing mas­ter­classes dur­ing the Tal­bot Rice ex­hi­bi­tion which were at­tended by draughts­men of all ages. It was deemed a huge suc­cess.

The pic­tures had a ret­ro­spec­tive el­e­ment show­ing work of his pre­vi­ous two decades with re­cent stud­ies of the hu­man body.

Those and his finely drawn por­traits were much ad­mired for Mccomb’s abil­ity to cap­ture the sen­si­tive qual­ity in the sit­ter’s face.

The va­ri­ety of the work on view un­der­lined his re­mark­ably broad skills.

An un­usual com­mis­sion came in 2009 when West­min­ster Cathe­dral com­mis­sioned him to cre­ate ovoid domes in the cathe­dral us­ing dec­o­ra­tive mo­saics. One critic wrote of The Bartlett Mo­saics that they were, “gar­landed with birds, teem­ing with life, with love of life, with love of cre­ation, with hu­mour and gen­tle­ness.”

In 2000 he was com­mis­sioned by the Vat­i­can to de­sign a Ju­bilee Medal fea­tur­ing Pope John Paul II and Car­di­nal Hume to com­mem­o­rate the new mil­len­nium.

Mccomb was a stal­wart of the Royal Academy’s sum­mer ex­hi­bi­tion, where his most dis­cussed work was a gi­gan­tic pen-and-ink seascape drawn on 96 sheets of A1 pa­per, a recre­ation of the view from his mother’s house in An­gle­sey, which dom­i­nated the show in 2005.

Mccomb was elected to the Royal Academy in 1991 and from 1995 to 1998 acted as Keeper.

He was keen to main­tain stan­dards at the RA Schools and en­cour­aged his pupils to draw.

His works were ex­hib­ited in many im­por­tant group shows, in­clud­ing the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1982, the Tate Gallery in 1984, the Hir­sh­horn Mu­seum, Wash­ing­ton DC and the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art, Brus­sels.

His com­pelling por­trait of Doris Less­ing (“serene in her plain­ness”) hangs in the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery in Lon­don.

Leonard Mccomb mar­ried first, in 1955 (dis­solved 1963) El­iz­a­beth Hen­stock; sec­ondly, in 1966, Joan All­work, who died the fol­low­ing year; and thirdly, in 1973 (dis­solved 1999) Bar­bara Git­tel.

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