Ralph Rumney: [Heath 1949–1951]

Ralph Rumney, the artist who attended Heath from 1949 to 1951, died aged 67 in . Born on in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, he was the son of an Anglican clergyman who moved to Halifax when Ralph was two. He attended a boarding school which he hated and, later, Heath Grammar School and Halifax School of Art, from which he dropped out. He refused to do National Service and this led to a fugitive life on the continent.

He lived in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés district of Paris and haunted a café named Chez Moineau, home of a group of Parisian radicals, where he was known as ‘The Consul.’ He began to be recognised as having an original artistic talent, painting in tachiste and abstract modes.

1957 was an eventful year for Rumney. He had a show at the Redfern Gallery, London, where he met Peggy Guggenheim and subsequently seduced her daughter, Pegeen. He refused to sell one of his paintings, ‘The Change,’ which is now part of the Tate’s collection, to Peggy Guggenheim. He gave it instead to Pegeen whom he subsequently married.

When his wife died in 1967 from a cocktail of drink and pills, her mother was convinced that Rumney had murdered her or, at least, failed to save her. Also in 1957 Situationist International, a subversive movement which helped to inspire the Paris riots of 1968, was founded with Rumney as its sole English founding member. However, he was expelled from it the following year for failing to produce a ‘psychogeographical’ survey of Venice.

In the 1970s he married Michèle Bernstein who had also been a member of Situationist International but they later divorced. He taught at art schools in Canterbury and Winchester and in 1985 his explicit series of Polaroid nudes was less about pornography than about the gap between the image and the real. He had always believed that art should express ideas and that, to be an artist, you did not have to produce art. Rumney’s autobiography, Le Consul appeared in 1999. He is survived by his son, Sandro, an art dealer.

John Allingham [Heath 1945–1952] writes:

I was in the same class as Rumney and I am sure that ‘Honky’ Peace, the Art Master at that time, would be amazed to know that one of his pupils had work exhibited at the Tate! Rumney talked about concepts and ideas that were totally beyond me and the entire class were confused by his abstract squiggles. At the age of fifteen or so, Rumney was aware of all the modern art trends and ‘isms.’ I certainly remember feeling totally ignorant and unable to discuss ‘art’ with him, although he was certainly bottom of the art class!

First appeared in the Newsletter dated