FRED YATESthe-sailors-night-out3

His Own Little World


John Martin represented Fred Yates for 16 years until his death in 2008 just before his 86th birthday. This Memorial exhibition was a personal survey of Fred’s career with key works on loan from private collections.

Fred died peacefully in London on the 7th July 2008 after a short illness. He had been in London for the opening of his exhibition Muck & Brass at the John Martin Gallery.  Fred attended the Private View (typically arriving unannounced at the last possible minute) and afterwards said that he was delighted to have met so many admirers of his work, ‘real people’ as he described them.

A Memorial Service was held for Fred Yates at St James’s Church Piccadilly on 11th September 2008. The service was full of family, old friends from across England and France alongside collectors of his work. Obituaries appeared in the Guardian, The Times and The Independent.

We would like anyone with memories or stories about Fred to add them to this site so that we can build up a true archive of his life & work. If you have photographs of Fred or his paintings you can send them to and I will add them to the site.  To add stories of your own, click on ‘comments’ at the bottom of one of the existing post then scroll down to the ‘Leave a reply’ box and leave your message. Alternatively send them to me at the gallery and I will post them on your behalf.

If you would like to be added to the Mailing List of the Fred Yates Society please send your details along with any enquiries to

With best wishes,

Tara Whelan


One Foot in the Past 29.6.16

West Lawn School, mid 1960s and a trail of pupils file into the quad, turn right (woe betide those who fail to observe the anti-clockwise rule) to enter the first classroom for a session of art. Familiar with the fact that their teacher Mr Yates looks uncannily like Van Gogh, they revel in his laid back approach. He orders the edgy ones to go to the Headmaster, Mr Martin, yet races ahead to stop them reaching the door and certain punishment. Ian Nathan remembers his art teacher with the broad north country dialect in great detail. “Fred Yates was an artist who just happened to be teaching – probably to keep body and soul together. When he left Teignmouth, he donated several of his works to the school.” His fame had yet to be won and some say the paintings were later sold. “Three of his large canvases were displayed above the podium in the hall and each morning in Assembly, when I was about 12, I used to study them.”  They inspired Ian who says that Fred’s art classes were the only bearable part of attending school. “Mr Yates kept awarding me commendations for my painting and each time I had to go up before the whole school and I asked him to stop awarding them to me!” Jeanette Murphy flagged up the local connection with Fred Yates and another pupil Marcia Pyne was able to provide this school photograph. In the mid 1960s, Ian’s father Noel acquired some sepia coloured paints and discovered that he also had a gift and the pair explored their art in the attic studio of their home beside the New Quay. Fred had shown his pupils how to squeeze a worm of colour from the tube direct to canvas and finger it, rather than brush it, into leaves, water, rocks. Ian’s two earliest paintings as a teenager show his potential.

“The smell of the paint and the sensations are still vivid – it seems such a short time ago.” But the finger of fate poked Ian’s shoulder, blew him off course into the world of dance for a while.

“Years later I saw Fred on the beach at St Ives – he was painting furiously in just a pair of underpants! He had become quite famous in Cornwall and worked there for a long time.”  Ian’s final encounter with Fred was in a Penzance tea room when the older man had chance to understand how much he had influenced his former school pupil. Fred Yates moved to France and died in 2008 at the age of 85. Ian continues to paint significant canvases at his Ringmore studio.

Fred Yates West Lawn School 1965(M Smyth) .JPG

Photograph 1 Courtesy Marcia Smyth

Fred Yates with West Lawn School pupils 1960s.






Fred Yates WEEK

38 New Street

The Barbican


Devon PL1 2NA

Tues- Fri 10 – 4

Sat 10 – 12

I am so sad to hear of Fred’s passing. I truly loved this old guy, if even from afar. I have followed him and his work for several years. My friends and I had the honest to goodness pleasure of meeting Fred a few times and getting to know him ‘in person’. It started with our first meeting in Vaison La Romaine back in 2002 when we bumped into him in a restaurant overlooking the river. Four years later when a group of us went back to France, I called Fred and he invited us to visit him in La Motte. It was a most memorable day – the drive itself through that spectacular countryside – and then the 4 hours lunching with Fred, visiting his two homes (he had just purchased a second home he was going to fix up) and seeing his latest creations! Man, we had a GOOD time – he treated us so royally – and to this day my friends still talk about that trip and the meeting with Fred Yates.
It was not only Fred, but it was his paintings. They were so authentic and natural, one had to admire and love them. When we talked with Fred about his art, he told us how concerned he was about “fame” stealing away his creative talent. He was afraid of losing that creative edge and so, I think, lived his life – simply, to say the least – in order to retain and grow that creativity he so wanted to express.

When I came back from that trip I created a web site for my friends to look at. Amongst other things, that web site contains a “Homage to Fred Yates” and a short video of Fred playing the piano in his home in La Motte. I hope that this portion might be interesting for fans of Fred to view.


Brian Bolli




We are pleased to announce that ‘Saturday Afternoon’ painted by Fred in 1953 will be on show the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery as part of their Paintings Unwrapped Exhibition. The exhibition features work from their permanent collection and will include work by Alma Tadema, William Blake, Fernand Léger, William Scott and Glyn Philpot and of course Fred Yates. For futher details please refer to their web-site:

Paintings Unwrapped
13 December 2008 to 13 April 2009

Fiona Thompson




I first heard of Fred Yates when I lived in Mevagissey as a child, during the 1970’s. He was a great friend of Don Austen, the artist, and, as Don was friends with my parents, they met Fred. They purchased several of Fred’s paintings, as we all loved his work. Many years later, in around 2000/1, I was living in Lostwithiel. I had heard that Fred had moved to the town, and had a cottage there. One day in late spring I was feeding my chickens, some fine Golden Spangled Hamburgs, in our large garden by the river, when a man walking down the lane, with a bag slung over his shoulder, carrying a canvas, stopped and said to me, “I’d like to paint you; your hair is exactly the same colour as your chickens”. Although I had never met him, I knew straight away that it was Fred Yates. After this meeting he often stopped by and we would sit in the garden with a drink, talking of all sorts of things. He was very taken with my Doberman bitch, India, and she adored him. She couldn’t care less about most people, but would sit with her head on Fred’s lap, gazing at him, while he made up stories of what they would do together. My favourite was the one where India and Fred would fly away together in a beautiful big hot air balloon and see all the countryside below. I lost touch with Fred after he moved to France; a warning that one should never put off contacting friends who have moved away. He was a very gentle man, and a gentleman. I am so honoured to have met him, and to have spent some cherished times with him. Fred was the sort of person who left a special impression, and the warmth of the man stayed with you. One day, in memory of Fred and India, both now gone from this world, I shall paint a picture of them together in a brightly coloured hot air balloon, flying high above all the fields and houses and people, looking down from the basket, waving and laughing, because they are so happy to be free.

From Geoff Bunn

“For my own part I knew Fred briefly in France. He had a place in Rancon and I in neighbouring Roussac. We met in Roussac. And then we spent a little time together at his place in Rancon and he showed me what he termed ‘a little’ about painting – it may have been a little to Fred but for me it meant a great deal!
“After our initial meeting we actually went out to paint together on two or three occassions; something I gather was rather unusual for Fred. (Others may know different?) And as it turned out that he and I both adored a little chapel just outside Rancon – we spent some time there. We also spent a little time on one or two of the beautiful small rivers of the area. With my regret being – and Fred’s I think – that he could not really get down to the rocky gorge on the Couze river near Balledent. I’m sure it is a place he would have loved.
“I was a lot younger than Fred – and, although full of life and the joy of life as he was – I did have the impression that he was a little uneasy about something (his health?) at that point in time. And perhaps he felt the need for company on these occassions. I hope that I am doing him no disservice to mention this. In any case, I am probably wrong and it was just something I felt.
“Very sad to hear of his passing. He was a grand man and great artist!”
Geoff Bunn

“Relatively Unconventional”

(First impressions, by Alan Veale)

I first met my (second) cousin Fred at Easter 1971.  I was just 18, about to sit my “A” Levels, when my Mum and I went on a “Golden Rail” holiday to Newquay in Cornwall.  The whole point of the holiday was to meet our relative for the first time.

 We’d heard about this unconventional “black sheep” of the family through Fred’s Auntie May – a cousin of my mother’s who lived in Bournemouth.  It was May who wrote regularly to both my mum and her sister Joan in Lytham St Annes, and as Fred and Joan had been “quite close” at one time, it was to Joan that she sent a cutting from a local newspaper about Fred in 1967.  Two years after the short article was published (about Fred’s finger-painting on Brixham quay), Fred quit his teaching career at the age of 47 and moved to Cornwall to become a full-time artist.


Auntie May

Now – this was a bold (and very risky) thing for anyone to do – and May’s opinion of Fred was somewhat akin to Captain Mainwaring’s view of Private Pike – “Stupid Boy!”  Cornwall was full of artists – what on earth did he think he was playing at?

Mum had heard about Fred, of course – and about his twin brother Arthur, who had been killed in the War – but could not remember ever having met him.  But he was still “family”, so she got his address from May and wrote to him at his cottage in Fowey.  I don’t remember the exact circumstances about how we came to arrange it, but less than two years after Fred made his dramatic migration, we booked the holiday to Newquay (the nearest holiday place to Fowey that we could get to by train).

It was a ten day trip (two of which would be occupied in the long rail journey from Lancashire), and I was very excited at the prospect of meeting this “black sheep” who had taken such a dramatic choice in his life.  Here I was, about to leave education and set out into the real world – and now I was visiting a beautiful part of the country, and about to find out what it was that had influenced this strange relation of mine.

The coastline at Newquay seemed absolutely wonderful to a teenager who had only ever experienced the relatively boring stretches of promenade and shingle of the Irish Sea and the North West.  I was a keen photographer, and took plenty of shots of the towering cliffs and rocky shoreline.  Fred was to come to our boarding house at 11am on the second day we were there, and I sat in the dining room window – eagerly looking forward to my first glimpse.  Then up the path came this over-aged hippy, long hair (past his ears) and bushy beard, wearing a baggy fisherman’s jumper, blue jeans and heavy boots.  Fred Yates had arrived – and so had “Oxfam-chic”.  Don’t get me wrong!  This guy lived as he had to live – economically, and with incredible discipline on what was both practical and important.  There were no frills with Fred.


“Would you like to come over to Fowey?” he said.  And of course the answer was yes.  Fred was the perfect gentleman, and determined to be the perfect host.  We went out to his car – a battered old Morris 1000 Traveller with flaking green paint and something like fungi growing out of the woodwork.  Mum sat happily in the passenger seat while I climbed into the back – sharing my precarious perch with what looked like half the contents of a builder’s yard: bits of wood, pieces of canvas and cardboard, buckets, boxes, weatherproofs and other articles of clothing – and all of it rich in the smell of oil paint. I was in heaven!

This was the beginning of a journey of discovery for me.  Fowey was about 30 miles away, on the opposite coast.  As we drove through the ever-changing countryside, sometimes rich and verdant green, sometimes austere with high stone walls, the conversation was infrequent.  Fred was not a “chatty” type – and neither was mum.  There were the usual pleasantries exchanged – “How was your train journey?”  “Isn’t this a lovely part of the world?” “Is your hotel comfortable?”  I was waiting for mum to ask the searching question “What made you decide to become an artist?”  But it never came.  Only years later I learned that this was a generation thing.  Mum was too polite to come out with something so direct – those sort of questions were fine for journalists (and perhaps for close family), but not for the generation who had lived through the last war.  As for me – I was still in awe, drinking in my surroundings, both inside the car and out.  And then we reached Fowey.

I’d been itching to say “Are we nearly there yet?” for the last 10 miles, but teenagers just don’t say that sort of thing.  For those who have never been there, Fowey is quite a small place, almost hidden from view by the road until it suddenly dips into the valley, and you come across a cluster of buildings that appear to cling to the edge of the hillside before it plunges into the waters of the River Fowey itself.  There was just one long, very narrow street, and Fred’s cottage was halfway along, but we had to drive past it before reaching a place to park.

From the outside, I was disappointed.  Along the journey I had seen all manner of quaint little cottages, built out of local stone, some with porches and little gardens full of colourful foliage – and I could imagine Fred to be living in one of those, possibly setting up his artist’s easel outside to paint a view of the river from his garden.  It was nothing like that: we walked back up the narrow street, Fred towering above us with his broad, six foot three frame, and reached a row of terraced houses, all opening straight onto the street, faced with plaster and finished off in fading mustard yellow.  But inside!  Oh, what an Aladdin’s cave awaited me!  The house was on three floors, linked by a spiral wooden staircase in the middle, and everywhere I looked I could see paintings.



Fred's Secret Love - The Piano


View of the Ferry from Fred's Garden








One corner seemed to have had a rack built to accommodate about 50 paintings on stretched canvas or hardboard, some even on cardboard.  Every wall had been stripped of wallpaper and plaster back to the natural stone, and all the woodwork was original pine.  The ground floor was stone, with just one small rug placed before an open fireplace.  The furniture was simple, but pride of place was a small (ship’s) piano.  Everywhere I looked, Fred had placed little items of bric-a-brac on shelves and ledges, and the whole image was homely and very, very cosy.  There was a garden at the rear – but not like any other garden.  This one started 18 inches outside the back door, straight off the kitchen, and then climbed up to over twice the height of the cottage itself!  I climbed the narrow, twisting path past little terraces of all manner of rich foliage, vegetable patches, and simple excavations – and found the sort of spot I had only dreamed of.  At the very top I could look right across the River Fowey, and even beyond.  To the left was the Bodinnick car ferry, crossing the river past a building that (Fred told me) once belonged to Daphne Du Maurier.  Looking to the right, the whole river opened out, and I could just see the smaller village of Polruan on the opposite side.  Berthed right in front of me was a large ship, and dotted all over the estuary were hundreds of smaller craft.  Now this was inspiration for an artist!  


And perhaps now, at last, I was beginning to understand what had made Fred take that fateful step into the unknown, just two years before.

Alan Veale October 2008