RIP John Owen

John Owen's "Coast off Asia Minor" from an RSA exhibition

Many people will have been very sad to hear that John, who died recently, is no longer with us. He was in so many ways a quite remarkable man whose courage and tenacity in his later years were so inspirational

He was educated at Stowe and went on to Trinity College, Cambridge. For many years he farmed at Randolphs in Iden before moving to Playden where he became increasingly interested in painting and studied under the well know local artist William Warden.  It was not long before John became a member of the prestigious Rye Society of Artists and was regularly showing and selling at its annual summer exhibitions.

He became one of its staunchest supporters and, at the age of 92, its most senior.  He was painting almost to the end of his life, and was very disappointed that the pandemic had caused the cancellation of this year’s exhibitions as he had some new work to show.

Louis Turpin remembers John showing him how to do a particular knot when putting the cord on the back of paintings for hanging.  John being a keen sailor knew all about knots! Louis still uses that knot to this day when hanging.

Paintings inspired by the sea

His paintings were inspired and informed by his deep knowledge of the countryside and also of the sea, gleaned from his life as a farmer and sailor. The subdued colours of the local landscape gave way to the vibrant blues, reds and yellows of the Aegean when he discovered Greece in later years.

Besides being an accomplished sailor, venturing out in Rye Harbour in his nineties, John was a very committed member of All Saints Church in Iden and, until only a few weeks ago and despite increasing frailty, was able to attend its weekly services. Even on a bitterly cold night last March, John insisted on attending the Ash Wednesday service and his faith remained with him to the end.

Fellow artist and RSA member, Bob Greenhalf recollects: “I think we all admired John for his stoicism and unfailing good humour, delivered with a mischievous glint in his eye”.

His large family throughout the past few years particularly have been very supportive and we extend to them all our sympathy and thoughts at this time. John was very much a one-off and our walls the better for the memories we have of him whenever we see his imaginative pictures and the friendship he brought to our lives.

His private funeral will take place on Thursday, December 17 at All Saints Church, Iden followed by burial in Playden churchyard joining there his deceased second wife Constance.

Image Credits: Dee Alsey .


  1. John’s son George has written subsequently:-

    Regarding sailing, my dad had a continuous succession of small boats in Rye from his youth right up until his last year and he modified every one of them to improve their sailing characteristics! He did many trips, amongst which was a good voyage in 1951 when he and a pal went to France in a 14′ dinghy called Spindrift, stopping off at the ill-fated South Goodwin lightship for a cup of tea and another in 1968 when he took the 16′ “Our Kate” down to Lymington and back on his own. He did many trips to the west country and northern France and the Low Countries in “True Vine” which he had built at Harry Phillips’s Rock Channel yard in 1969; I accompanied him on quite a few of these outings and found that I’d inherited the sailing gene. Until he was in his mid 80’s he used to go for single-handed day sails and I think his last voyage proper was when he helped me deliver my boat from Cowes to Rye when he was 83. He finally swallowed the anchor in 2019 when he reluctantly got rid of his last boat and his very last sail was this July, just after lockdown 1.0, aged 92, in my boat, when we had a lovely sail out towards Dungeness on a sparkling day. Sailing inspired a lot of his painting and sailing boats of all sizes and types across the ages remained one of his great interests, right up until he died.

  2. I am very sad that John has died. He was a charming, and very interesting man. His paintings were lovely, quite distinctive.
    Having returned to Iden with my husband , I think of him every time we drive past his home. How wonderful that he was still painting.
    With Condolences to his family.


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