Fred Mayor

21/12/1866 - 10/1/1916

His Life

Fred Mayor Portrait
Portrait of Fred Mayor

Fred Mayor was born on December 21st 1866 at Winksley, near Ripon, Yorkshire. He was educated at St. Edmund's School Canterbury, where he took eagerly to drawing and also to cricket, showing such prowess at the game that his headmaster foretold a professional's career for him.

It was art which prevailed, and during his early days he shared a studio at Chiswick, London with Sir Frank Brangwyn, with whom he also shared a single suit for alternate visits to the theatre. Like many young painters at this time, in 1886 Mayor went to Paris and studied at the Academie Julian. It was during this period that he met Wilson Steer and Walter Sickert, who became lifelong friends and had a great influence on his work.

Fred Mayor's first artistic breakthrough was to have one of his paintings accepted at The Royal Academy of Arts in 1888 when he was just twenty-one. Mayor was a man of many talents, and in 1897 he filed his first Patent application for "The improved method of folding and putting up cigarette papers, sanitary papers, writing and blotting sheets and the like" The idea was almost identical to that adopted by Rizzla for their cigarette papers.

In 1899 he went to live in Staithes, an early artists colony, where his fellow painters were Harold and Dame Laura Knight, also Harrington Mann and a young Sheffield born artist, Hannah Hoyland, later to become his wife. The artists were quickly absorbed into the local community, to whom they introduced hockey and inevitably, cricket.

Fred Mayor was fond of telling his story of travelling by train to an 'Artists versus Authors' cricket match when, taking pity on a ragged, hungry looking fellow on the station, Mayor asked the man carry his cricket bag in exchange for a handful of coppers. Mayor was later acutely embarrassed to discover that the ragged fellow was not only playing for the opposing team, but that he was none other than the author of "Peter Pan", Sir J.M.Barrie.

William Frederick Mayor
William Frederick Mayor

At that time shooting rivalled cricket as Fred Mayor's favourite sport, demanding mention in his life as an artist because the last stages of his early pictures, before their dispatch to the Royal Academy, were sometimes hurried over to allow a day out with his gun. His sporting tastes may too have had their share in the sensibility shown in his work to open air effects and in the robustness of their treatment. Greater adventures called him; on leaving Staithes he sailed extensively on a windjammer. He had always been a keen sailor, and as a result of his experiences with large sailing vessels, he was later to make and rig scale models on which he would practice hoisting and trimming the sails. Sailing ships were a favourite subject for many of his paintings at the time and the authenticity of the rigging and sails is clearly apparent to an experienced sailor.

His next invention was one for a carpet-sweeping machine, on similar lines to that later produced by Ewbank. In this period he travelled extensively overland through Europe and later travelled to Morocco, pushing south to Fez, where no English artist had previously ventured, and it was from here that many of his finest pastels were executed. On his return in 1902 he exhibited one hundred of these pastels at the Leicester Galleries, London to considerable acclaim in the national and provincial press.

Fred Mayor then set about the difficult task of winning the hand of Hannah Hoyland (9/1/73 - 2/11/47) who also exhibited at the Royal Academy, with whom he had fallen in love in his early years in Staithes. This was to prove a difficult task, since Hannah's father, a wealthy brush manufacturer from Sheffield, was totally opposed to his daughter marrying a penniless peripatetic artist, and flatly refused his blessing.

Help was at hand from Hannah's cousin, Edith Wynne Matheson, (the actress who later followed Ellen Terry as Henry Irving's leading lady), who took pity on the young couple, and lent them ten pounds which enabled them to elope in 1902 to Montreuil-sur-Mer in northern France, where they rented a fine town house in the main square for eight pounds per year. At first they could not afford to buy furniture, but Fred and Hannah made friends with a local Antique dealer who displayed his furniture in their house, and whenever they sold a painting they would buy another antique from the dealer until the house was fully furnished.

The years Fred and Hannah spent in Montreuil were very happy ones. Their first son Freddy (later to found the Mayor Gallery in Mayfair) was born in 1903, and was swiftly followed by a second, Charles, and from Fred Mayor's paintings of the time, life appears to have been one long round of picnics on the ramparts of Montreuil, Sunday lunches in the Hotel de France, and idyllic summers. It was in Montreuil that Fred Mayor developed the light, impressionistic style with which he is so clearly identified. In company with such fellow artists as Wilson Steer, he produced many spontaneous sketches and a few oils, of the market place and of the countryside of Northern France, filled with strong light, and splashes of vibrant colour.

Fred Mayor and his patented easel

Fred Mayor and his patented easel

Winters were spent either in France or at the house of Spence Ingall in Algiers, until Fred discovered Cassis near Marseilles, where he painted many fine seascapes in both oils and watercolour. Summers would be spent in Le Touquet or Paris-Plage, thus allowing Mayor to explore the cool clear light of the north, and the strong Mediterranean light of the south.

Mayor was still in an inventive mood, and in January 1908 he filed and had accepted his second invention, this time for something closer to his heart, an artists easel with an attached camp stool, which actually went into production with Rowleys. Early in 1909 the Mayors gave up their house in Montreuil and returned to England. Fred and Hannah lived at Whitchurch in Buckinghamshire, where in March that year their only daughter, Edith was born. She was known as 'Fifi' until her late seventies, when she took her mother's name, Hannah.

From Whitchurch they spent holidays in London, Falmouth, Portsmouth and Amberley where Mayor painted as enthusiastically as he did in the then Elm dotted Vale of Aylesbury. Close associates in this period were Philip Connard, Harrington Mann and Derwent Wood. In 1912 the family moved to 61 Earls Court Square in London, and later that year his paintings won him a Silver Medal at the International Exhibition in Amsterdam. One of his students in this period was Maud Burge from New Zealand, who was later to receive great acclaim in that country.

Despite his earlier prowess as a sportsman and sailor, Mayor was a long time sufferer of severe asthma, and had to undergo what should have been a simple operation to fit him for military service as a war artist, but on January 10th 1916 with his wife at his bedside, he haemorrhaged. Because of the pressure of nursing the war wounded, neither a doctor nor nurse could be found in time and tragically, he died. He was buried at Chiswick church in west London.

He was just forty-nine and at the peak of his prowess as an artist.

Compiled by Edith Chudley (Mayor) and Gavin Pearce, September 1992 (Updated September, 2003)
With acknowledgement to Dr Peter Phillips and The Mayor Gallery

Apart from painting, Fred Mayor was also an inventor and an adventurer.