Graham Ovenden  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Graham Ovenden (born 1943) is an English painter, fine art photographer, writer and architect. He is married to artist Annie Ovenden. Their daughter Emily is a writer, and a singer with the Mediaeval Baebes.


Born in New Alresford into a Fabian household, Ovenden attended Itchen Grammar School (1954-59) and was taught music privately by Albert Ketelbey. Ovenden was a student at the Royal College of Music, before taking up painting around 1962.

He was tutored by Lord David Cecil and Sir John Betjeman. He attended the Southampton School of Art, and graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1968. One of his most important teachers was James Sellars, an expert on Samuel Palmer.

He moved to Cornwall in 1973 with painter Annie Ovenden and their family. Since then he has been constructing a neo-Gothic building, "Barley Splatt" near Bodmin in Cornwall.

Ovenden was a founder of the Brotherhood of Ruralists in 1975, along with Graham Arnold, Ann Arnold, Sir Peter Blake, David Inshaw, Annie Ovenden and Jann Haworth. The Brotherhood is still extant, although three members have left; in 2005 it had a major London exhibition at the Leicester Galleries. They were given the name "Ruralists" by writer Laurie Lee.


Ovenden is an artist, photographer, photo historian and collector of Victorian photography.

His nude and semi-nude photographic portraits of young girls were published in the book States of Grace (Ophelia Editions, 1992). His photographs of the children's street culture in London taken in the late 1950s and early 1960s when Ovenden was a teenager have been published in Childhood Streets (Ophelia Editions, 1998) and in many catalogs issued by galleries and museums. Aspects of Lolita (Academy Editions, 1976) contains prints inspired by Vladimir Nabokov's novel, Lolita. A general monograph of his paintings, drawings, prints and photographs, entitled Graham Ovenden, was published by Academy Editions/St. Martin's Press in 1987. Other publications containing his work include David Bailey, The Naked Eye. Great Photographers of the Nude (AMPHOTO, 1987); Emily Brönte, Sturmhöhe (illustrations by Ovenden) (Carl Bertelsmann, 1981); Charles Causley, A Tribute from the Artist (Exeter University, 1987); Robert Melville, Erotic Art of the West (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1973); David Inshaw, Graham Ovenden, Martin Axon: Photographs 1957-1981 (Plymouth Arts Centre Touring Exhibition Catalogue); Graham Ovenden Photographs (Olympus Gallery, 1984); Bradley Smith, Erotic Art of the Masters: The 18th, 19th & 20th Centuries (Mayflower Books, 1980) and Bradley Smith, 20th Century Masters of Erotic Art (Fleetbooks, 1980). Ovenden's work has also graced the covers of record albums (Malice in Wonderland by Paice Ashton Lord) and books, notably the Arden Shakespeare series, and the British hardcover edition of A. N. Wilson's Dream Children. His work is in numerous collections, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, The Tate, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

As an authority on Victorian photography and illustration, Ovenden has edited Pre Raphaelite Photography (1972); Victorian Children (1972); Victorian Erotic Photography (1973); A Victorian Album - Julia Margaret Cameron and Her Circle (1975); Alphonse Mucha Photographs (1974); Clementina Lady Hawarden (1974); Hill & Adamson Photographs (1973); Lewis Carroll (1984); Nymphets and Fairies (1976) and Illustrators of Alice (1972). Writings by Ovenden on art and photography include Ruralism and the New Romanticism (Art & Design, 1988); On David Inshaw (Architectural Design, 1984); The Pre-Raphaelites (Architectural Design, 1984); The Black and White Art of Arthur Hughes (The Green Book, 1981); A Liddell Family Album (The Hillingdon Press, 1973); and Jane and Elizabeth, a selection of images of Jane Morris and Elizabeth Siddall (Hillingdon Press, 1972). In addition, he has curated numerous exhibitions, many featuring his extensive collection of antiquarian photographs, including the 1993/4 exhibition Recording Angels, The Work of Lewis Wickes Hine.

Ovenden and his work have been the subject of broadcasts and films, including Lolita Unclothed for the series World without Walls (ITV, Channel 4, 1993), Stop the Week with Robert Robinson (BBC Radio 4, 1989), Curious Houses with Lucinda Lambton (BBC-TV, 1987), Bats in the Belfy - Home Sweet Home (ITV, 1987), Robinson Country: The Painter (ITV, 1987), Figures in a Landscape: The Brotherhood of Ruralists (BBC Radio 3, 1983), and Summer with the Ruralists, a film produced and directed by John Read for the BBC (1978-9). In 2000, the British Library funded a formal interview with Ovenden as part of its Oral History of British Photography series.


  • Victor Arwas, Laurie Lee, Robert Melville. Graham Ovenden. (Academy Editions, 1987).
  • The Brotherhood of Ruralists - A Celebration (2003).
  • Christopher Martin (Ed). Art & Design No.23 - The Ruralists (Academy Editions, 1991).
  • Hugh Cumming. "Post-Modern Landscape: The Art of Graham Ovenden" in: Art and Design: The Post-Avant-Garde Painting in the Eighties (1987).

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