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Marion Adnams: A Teacher Who Turned a Surrealist

20th century

Marion Adnams: A Teacher Who Turned a Surrealist

Would you ever suspect one of your teachers to be a painter? Marion Adnams, a modern languages teacher from Derby, England turned out to be a hidden talent. When she began to take evening drawing classes, nobody expected she would turn a Surrealist… So keep your eyes open, maybe one of your tutors is a secret artist!

Marion Adnams, Alter Ego, 1945, Derby Museums Trust

Marion Adnams, Alter Ego, 1945 © Derby Museums Trust and Artist’s Estate

Adnams was born and lived in Derby. In 1930s she began her drawing classes and in 1938 she stopped teaching languages to start teaching art. Around that moment she began producing paintings whose style was reminiscent of the works by Renee Magritte and Paul Nash. Her surroundings had an immediate influence on her early paintings. In general, her works rarely feature figures and focus instead on landscapes and objects which are seemingly unrelated. Yet, she never offered any explanations to her works, preferring people to interpret the meanings for themselves.

L'infante égarée Marion Elizabeth Adnams, 1944 © Manchester Art Gallery UK and Bridgeman Images_preview, marion adnams surrealist

Marion Elizabeth Adnams, L’infante égarée, 1944 © Manchester Art Gallery UK and Bridgeman Images


Although nowadays she is rather forgotten, during her lifetime she was quite a renown. For about 30 years she showed continuously in London and the provinces and even had a retrospective at Midland Group Gallery in 1971. She was a versatile artist, for example in 1964-5 she completed a series of murals for Immanuel Church, Stapenhill, Burton-upon-Trent.

Adnams, Marion Elizabeth; Three Stones; Nottingham City Museums and Galleries; https://www.artuk.org/artworks/three-stones-47392

Marion Adnams, Three Stones, 1968, Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery

Sadly, in 1968 Adnams was forced to stop working. Her eyes began to fail her, and at the end of her long life, she was almost blind. Adnams never married and she was believed to be difficult to deal with. She even fell out with her mother who was also an artist.

Marion Adnams, 'For lo, winter is past', 1963, Derby Museum and Art Gallery

Marion Adnams, ‘For lo, winter is past’, 1963 © Derby Museums Trust and Artist’s Estate


If you are intrigued, you have a chance to study her oeuvre in the Derby Museum which is featuring an exhibition Marion Adnams: A Singular Woman! For the first time in almost fifty years, you can see at one exhibition her paintings, drawings, prints, and personal objects. Lucy Bamford, Senior Curator of Fine Art at Derby Museums said that despite having achieved recognition and commercial success during her own lifetime, she has since become something of a forgotten artist. This exhibition finally gives us a chance to redress this and introduce her remarkable vision to a new generation. Enjoy!

Adnams, Marion Elizabeth; The Seven Lamps; Derbyshire & Derby School Library Service; marion adnams surrealist

Marion Adnams, The Seven Lamps,c.1956, Derbyshire & Derby School Library Service

If you are interested in other Surrealist women, check out the article about Rita Kernn-Larsen.

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Magda, art historian and Italianist, she writes about art because she cannot make it herself. She loves committed and political artists like Ai Weiwei or the Futurists; like Joseph Beuys she believes that art can change us and we can change the world.

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