Welsh artist Olwen Tarrant was a painter and sculptor with a curiosity for life and the world around her. She loved music, colour, the countryside, sailing and sun. The first and only female president in the history of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters (ROI) in London from 1995 to 2001, she was later made a fellow, an honour bestowed on only seven other members to date.
Tarrant painted prolifically across genres from still life and figure studies to landscapes, seascapes and urbanscapes. With a distinctively bold and confident style of painting, repetitive, directional brushstrokes often appear in Tarrant’s work with pattern and rhythm often featuring as well.
The third of six daughters, she was born in Newport, South Wales to Thomas Lewes, a channel pilot. She attended Newport High School before going on to study at Sir John Cass College of Art in London (now part of the London Metropolitan University) where she won her first prize for a painting of the 7.32 commuter train into Liverpool Street station. The competition was judged by former RA president Sir Charles Wheeler who was so impressed with it that he bought it, prophesising that the young artist had a successful career ahead of her.
After graduating, Tarrant lived in Hutton, Essex, marrying John Tarrant in 1951. She was a country girl at heart returning to her hometown of Newport with its surrounding hills and mountains often. After John retired, they moved to Upper Welland, Malvern in 1995. Tarrant’s studio overlooked the famous Malvern hills and she would later remark, ‘I love Elgar’s music and it is wonderful to listen to it at home looking at the scene which inspired him. I think, in a very modest way, that it inspires me too.’
Tarrant also painted from her studio in Puerto Pollensa, Mallorca, with many of her paintings featuring the purple hills which her studio overlooked.
Tarrant died in 2012 after a battle with cancer. She won many prizes and awards over her long career, including Alan Gourley, Cornelissen and Llewellyn Alexander award and the A & K Wilson award at the ROI Annual Exhibition in 2007. Her work is held in many collections including the private collection of Sir Charles Wheeler and the House of Commons.