Remembering a great female artist: Kate Fryer, as told to Moya Marshall

An exhibition of the works of Kate Fryer will take place at the RBSA’s galleries in September. MOYA MARSHALL caught up with an old friend of the artist, Tony Yates, and he shared his memories of this great artist…

Kate Fryer contributed to the British art scene in a career spanning an incredible 90 years. She died aged 106 in 2017, and the RBSA’s forthcoming retrospective will chart the development of her work, which was in the European tradition.

She moved to Birmingham from her birthplace of Leeds to take up a teaching position at the College of Art and settled in the city. She was elected to the RBSA in 1960. Kate exhibited widely and maintained an active artistic practice alongside her teaching.

Quite late on in her life, Kate noticed the talents of fellow artist Tony Yates via an exhibition at the RBSA, and the two developed a longstanding friendship.

Tony remembers Kate saying:

‘You can’t teach painting unless you paint.’

She repeated this mantra with some certainty and there is no question that she lived by it to the letter. Kate believed that in order to paint something you needed to have been there and experienced the subject first-hand.

Evening, Whitby Bay

Galway Bay

Kate’s talent for oil painting may never have become so finely honed if disaster had not struck in 1942.

Tony says: ‘During the Second World War, many people relocated to Bath with the notion that it was ‘unbombable’, due to its lack of military and strategic significance. However, after the British Royal Air Force caused devastation to German towns, the Germans decided to attack cities of cultural importance in the UK, in order to cause the ultimate disruption to civilian life. Bath was targeted and the School of Art was hit.

‘Fortunately, Kate was safe, but her printing and carvings tools were all destroyed. Of course, this was a disaster for all the artists in the school – not only had they lost their tools, they also did not have a place to work. The home of renowned artist Walter Sickert was opened up to provide a workspace for the artists, including Kate, who turned to painting in the absence of her tools. Kate obviously made an impression on Sickert’s wife, Thérèse as she painted a portrait of her!

Thérèse Lessore

The Fountain (based on a fountain in the centre of Bath)

Life in Birmingham…

‘When Kate moved to Birmingham, she settled in Harborne. I used to visit her weekly and we would discuss what we were working on in detail. When we met, Kate was already elderly, but her mind was sharp, and she was incredibly independent. I remember once I saw her walking down Harborne High Street with two heavy bags of shopping. Upon offering to help, I received a scornful look and she replied ‘No thank you, I’m in perfect balance’ with a bag in each hand.

‘She could also be stubborn. I remember once looking over a painting she was working on, and I remarked I didn’t much like a green shed she had included as it distracted from the other parts of the painting. When I returned the week after, she had changed the whole painting in order to make the landscape work around the green shed.’

Kate painting

At the age of 90, the RBSA held a solo exhibition of 72 of her works, and she was featured again in the exhibition Ten Years at St Paul’s Square.

Kate at Brook St

On the upcoming exhibition…

‘Esther Scott, Brendan Flynn and myself are overseeing selection of the works that will be exhibited. Kate would have been delighted; she always painted over paintings she didn’t like and held a lot of pride in her work. The main dilemma will be choosing out of the hundreds of masterpieces!’

Myself by Myself


Born in Leeds in 1910, Kate enrolled at Leeds College of Art at the age of 16 where she discovered a talent for wood-engraving and printmaking. She then taught at Bath School of Art from 1937 and moved to Birmingham College of Art in 1948 and stayed in the city for the rest of her life.

Every spare moment was spent travelling around England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Italy, or Switzerland; sketchbook in hand, she laid out rough drawings that each had a chance of being transformed into an oil painting or a print. She had a fondness for coastal areas, Whitby and the West of Ireland being among her favourites.

A prominent member of the RBSA from 1966, Kate was known principally for her impressionistic style. Kate exhibited widely: at the Royal Academy, the Redfern Gallery, the New English Art Club and Leeds and Wakefield galleries.

By Moya Marshall, RBSA intern

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