Obituary: Derek Clarke, artist, 101

Derek Clarke was a hugely admired member of the RSA. Picture: Lesley Martin
Derek Clarke was a hugely admired member of the RSA. Picture: Lesley Martin
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ARTIST Derek Clarke, the oldest member of the Royal Scottish Academy, has died in the Capital at the age of 101.

Born in Longthorpe, near Peterborough, in 1912, Mr Clarke moved to Scotland in 1947 to teach art, something he developed a strong passion for at an early age.

He studied at Ampleforth College, North Yorkshire, and then at the Slade School of Art in London, where he learned the importance of drawing.

After graduating in 1935, Mr Clarke began work as a portrait painter – but his career was put in hold for the Second World War, during which he served in Tunisia as an officer in the Durham Light Infantry. A spinal injury meant he returned home to London for a year to recover.

Two years after the war, Robert Lyon, principal of Edinburgh College of Art, invited him to join the staff. Mr Clarke taught there until 1978 and also produced portraits of academics and military figures.

In 1957, he painted a mural in the arch over the altar of his church, the Sacred Heart, in Lauriston Street. However, in the 1960s, it was covered up after the Vatican decreed that murals should be simplified.

Speaking during an interview with BBC Scotland last month, Mr Clarke said: “I am hoping after I have died they can unveil the mural. It’s only covered over with wallpaper.”

He was awarded an MBE in the New Year’s Honours list and saw his life’s work honoured with a celebratory exhibition at the RSA.

The display – to mark his 100th birthday – featured family portraits, landscapes, animals and religious works spanning 80 years.

A spokesman for the academy said: “The exhibition was greeted with great enthusiasm by lovers of painting from all over the world.

“Derek Clarke held a special place at the academy, having taught generations of fellow academicians during his hugely active career at Edinburgh College of Art, including Elizabeth Blackadder and John Bellany.”

A devout man all his life, one of his works – Lazarus in the Bosom of Abraham – will take pride of place during his funeral mass at St Mary’s Cathedral on Friday.

Mr Clarke was predeceased by his first wife Ann and their first child. He is survived by his second wife, Pat, and three children from his first marriage.

Paying tribute, Victoria Crowe, the current deputy president of the Royal Scottish Academy, said: “I first met Derek when I joined the staff of the Edinburgh College of Art in 1968.

“I found Derek an enthusiastic teacher and communicator, passing on to his students a rigorous and disciplined approach to drawing, probably reflecting the influence of the Slade, where he had studied before the war.

“He had a great interest in anatomy and a passion for painting that remained undimmed throughout his long, creative life.”