Fred Cuming RA obituary

Fred Cuming in his studio

The art world was very sad to hear that long time Iden resident, Fred Cuming RA had passed away early last Sunday morning. Described as “the finest landscape painter of his generation” and an artist with a “unique temperament, touch and vision”, Fred was also a great teacher, friend and above all a family man who found great joy and inspiration in the world around him. He would often be seen on Camber Sands or Rye Harbour with his sketchbooks which he constantly carried with him

A visit to his studio was always a delight. Fred, surrounded by work in progress, would talk about his travels, past life, people he had known and his ideas for the future where his visionary instincts remained undimmed to the end.

Born in 1930, Fred studied at Sidcup School of Art from 1945 to 1949 and, having completed his National Service, went on to study at the Royal College of Art from 1951 to 1955, where he gained a Rome Scholarship and an Abbey Minor Scholarship. In this Platinum Jubilee year, it is appropriate to mention Fred’s recollection, as a young budding artist, of standing in the rain sketching the coronation procession.  The subsequent painting he made The Crowd in the Mall, drew attention in the press, hailed as “the only painting that really captured the blustering foulness of that day”.

Having won his scholarship, Fred travelled to the British School in Rome hitching through France to get there. Then significantly, during a meandering return journey to England with a friend, he spent a long time in Venice which became an inspiration for many of his later works. His art has an impressionist quality described as “the fleeting impressions of his surroundings” which he first encountered as a child evacuee during the Blitz, and sketching rural scenes in Cornwall, the Chilterns and Yorkshire, starkly contrasting the bombed out landscape of the city that he sketched on his return to London in 1943.

In 1969 at the age of 39 Fred was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy and later in 1974, became a full Royal Academician, going on to become a Senior RA in 2005. During this time, in 2001, he was given the honour of being the featured artist in the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition, with the Weston Room devoted to an exclusive show of his work.

The artist in reflective mood

At the time of his passing he was the longest serving Royal Academician, looking forward to the 2022 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition having submitted six pieces of work this year.Fred was also an active participant within the Rye art scene, a distinguished member of the Rye Society of Artists, exhibiting work regularly at the Rye Art Gallery as well as exhibiting work widely both in this country and abroad.

Notably, in 2005 Professor Stephen Hawking personally commissioned Fred to undertake a portrait, one of which is now in the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery. Fred’s sensitive rendering was a treasured possession of the late Professor at the time of his death in 2018.

On a personal level, the last four years have been challenging for Fred – during 2018 he lost both his son, the artist Danny ‘Pockets’ in March and later that same year his beloved wife Audrey in December. However, Fred found much solace in his art, continuing to paint and exhibit regularly and in April this year he made what was to be his last trip to Venice with his family, taking a final glimpse of the bejewelled city that inspired him so many years previously. He returned to his studio in Iden with a sketchbook rich with new images and ideas that were forming the basis for some of his latest work. It was a source of great pride to him and his family that Rye Art Gallery recently held a retrospective of Danny’s works and Fred was present in the Gallery only last month for a special photo shoot just prior to this historic Venetian trip.

It is hoped that at the annual Exhibition of the Rye Society of Artists in August there will be a fitting tribute to him. He was a generous and selfless man who wanted to encourage and support artists of all ages and abilities; his popularity reflects the deep affection, admiration and esteem in which so many held him.
At the age of 92, Fred was painting to the end, regularly receiving visitors at his studio and preparing for forthcoming exhibitions. It was a privilege to know him and the legacy of his many paintings in numerous national art galleries and private collections are a testament to an amazing career spanning more than 75 years.

He was a greatly respected, pioneering and visionary artist and a great loss not only to the art world but to the community in Rye where he worked. Our thoughts are with Rachel, his daughter, and family and with Danny’s family at this very sad time. They can rightly be so proud of Fred’s legacy.

I am grateful to the Cuming family who helped me with this article

Image Credits: courtesy of Rachel Cuming .


  1. The Rye Society of Artists will sorely miss this outstanding artist as one of their most treasured and distinguished members, who joined the RSA in 1986. Our thoughts are with Fred’s family and friends at this very sad time, from all the RSA members.

    Chair RSA

  2. Fred’s passing will be such a sad loss to so many. Family, fellow artists and lovers of his paintings will all miss him.
    His wonderful work lives on though and perhaps that may be some comfort as we mourn his loss.

  3. Fred was a good friend. So kind and interesting. My heart goes out to Rachel. His genes will continue through his grandchildren and will be cherished. May you all have many happy memories. He leaves a wonderful legacy in his art. With condolences to Rachel and the family.

  4. A truly great artist of our time I was fortunate enough to have been one of his art students when he was a tutor at Maidstone College of Art back in the 70s. Even in those days he was a huge R.A. star, a charismatic and successful artist all the young students aspired to be like him indeed many tried to imitate him, but no one ever could. No one knew ‘the craft of painting’ better than Fred he’d studied it for most of his life ,learning from the old masters but taking it to new heights with his own utterly unique and fabulous style . So sad he has gone but what an amazing legacy he leaves .

  5. My family and I spent a wonderful day in the 80’s in the garden of his Iden home. A bbq was duly lit to provide a meal for the dozen who had gathered. Fred in wonderful form played tennis with my son Harry and entertained us all with great stories and very funny accounts of his life. His lyrical painting will be sadly missed but what a body of work remains for all to enjoy in the future.


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