Meet the Artist: Martin Yeoman

We are delighted to release our exclusive conversation with Martin Yeoman, one of our featured Winter Auction 2021 artists.

Martin is a British painter, draughtsman, sculptor and etcher who has worked extensively in Europe, North Africa, The Middle East and India. Throughout his career he has exhibited at some of Britain's leading galleries and has had work commissioned by the royal family.

Read on to discover what it was like to be on tour with HRH's the Prince and Princess of Wales, what drew Martin to being an artist, and the pieces he donated to our auction (below). 

Lots 381-383 by Martin Yeoman
Chalk Crayon/Chalk Pastel/Pencil on paper
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Q 1. Spending so much of your life as a tour artist accompanying HRH The Prince of Wales is not an experience shared by many people. What does that lifestyle entail?

A. I had three tours with the HRH, the first and second being the most memorable. When I first met HRH in 1985, he asked me if I would like to join TRH’s on a Tour of the Gulf States. It set a brand new precedent because up until that point, it had formally been older and more established artists who the Prince asked to accompany them. I followed in the immediate footsteps of John Ward RA, an artist perhaps more accustomed to an extraordinary request such as this and perhaps due to his experience and status, more easily understood and accepted.

I was told by the then Prince’s private secretary that as an artist, there was no need for me to conform with any dress code which everyone else would be obliged to conform to. So I imagined myself in the future sitting amongst everyone else at dinner in the dining room of the Royal Yacht dressed informally and decided that was not the best way for me to be an observer.

Rather than stand out as an oddity and cause attention to myself, I decided to buy myself the full regalia and merge in. I also brought along a secondhand 1950’s American lightweight suit that was found in a charity shop in Wales which seemed sensible to wear on more formal occasions during the day.

The main thing I had to bear in mind was that Royal Tour schedules are extremely full, timed and planned down to the minute, so the first thing I had to adjust to was trying to keep up throughout the day, along with recording in sketchbooks the visual opportunities that presented themselves to me and making sure I did not get left behind! 

Q 2. Is there a travel memory that stands out for you most?

A. The Royal Tour of the Gulf States in 1986 was concluding in Jeddah and I spent the day finding places and things to draw. The evening was approaching, the light was falling fast and I needed to get back to Britannia to get ready for dinner. I hailed a taxi and asked the driver if he understood or spoke English, he nodded and I got in. However, once we moved off, it quickly became apparent that he didn't, so instead of heading for the dockyard which I had asked for, I found myself in and around deserted building sites in the back of a taxi being driven around aimlessly. I then asked to be taken to the British Embassy but the driver flatly refused and contemptuously spat out of the window. Things were turning nasty I thought and panic was starting to set in as time was getting on. I was eventually dropped off at an International Hotel and phoned the Embassy from there. Someone from the Embassy came and picked me up and rushed me over to the dockyard and got me through security to where the Royal Yacht was berthed and lit up in all its glory.

Once onboard I was informed that all the guests, who meet in the sitting room for an aperitif had sat down to the first course in the dining room. I was given the option of not going in or rushing down to get changed as quickly as possible as a place at the table had been left for me. I slipped in and no one seemed to notice except Princess Diana. I found out afterwards that she had been responsible for keeping my place and had said 'he will turn up when he is ready'.

Q 3. As a royal portrait artist, how do you negotiate your artistic integrity and vision for a work with the responsibility of representing such esteemed people?

A. The main thing is to be yourself and to approach it as a job and to try and do your best in the agreed time. That is not an easy thing to do whoever asks you, I always request at least three sittings, making a new drawing on each occasion and hopefully getting nearer to a likeness on each sitting. In the Royal grandchildren’s case, I chose to make most of the drawings in silverpoint, so I had to prepare the paper well beforehand and hope I did justice to myself and that medium through the several sittings. I have made a point in my career not to work from photographs, except on one posthumous portrait, and I am glad I made that decision at the start of my career in the 1970s. 

Q 4. Was your earliest ambition always to become a painter, draughtsman, sculptor and etcher? How did this ambition develop into reality?

A. I always loved drawing from as early as I can remember, and when I was in infant school I can remember a moment when looking around in the playground, I felt a very strong feeling about my destiny. It was only when I went to senior school across the road, at around the age of twelve that I was once asked to stay behind after an art lesson and was asked by my teacher Mrs Gunns, what I wanted to do when I left school. My answer then was, 'something to do with art Miss’. I was reminded of it decades later passing childhood haunts driven in a car from the Royal Mews on the way to draw two of the youngest of the Queen's grandchildren.

Q 5. Figurative and conceptual art have been held against one another by art historians and commentators long before you were working as a figurative painter. Have you ever felt the forces of this supposed opposition in your experienced career?

A. The one time I did come up against this the most was when I was trying to find an art school to study in after I came back from Pakistan. I went for an interview at the Faculty of Fine Art at Reading University in late 1974 in the hope of finding an art school where I could further my drawing, learn about painting and work from a life model. I was told that they did not draw there anymore and that if I were to become a student at the Faculty I would be made to become more like them.

Q 6. Your generous donation to our Winter Auction is greatly appreciated. Who is this beautiful feline and what made you reach for the materials to capture her in this way?

A. Timmy is a tomcat that came to a neighbour of mine under very tragic circumstances. It has taken me years to warm to him, as he, like the other tomcats in this neighbourhood, have sprayed many of the plants in my garden and killed them, plus Timmy also seems to have fleas! I decided to draw him for the charity because Monty, my lovely Jack Russell had to be put down last year and not only do I miss him terribly, I also miss the challenge of drawing a life that moves around and where I have to be concise when I draw. Since drawing Timmy, I now have greater sympathy for him, particularly as all the other cats in my neighbourhood take every opportunity to scare him off daily, he is referred to by everyone as "Timid Timmy". 

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