This month marks a very special occasion. Diana Armfield celebrates her 100th birthday on 11 June 2020.
This magnificent milestone should have coincided with the opening week of our Annual Exhibition at which a great big fuss could have been made of her, but that will have to wait until it’s safe for us all to meet again. In the meantime, we asked some of our members to share their thoughts and memories by way of a tribute to our most senior and much-loved member . . .
“It's great to have this opportunity to celebrate Diana's big birthday. As well as being the most wonderful painter (that touch, that sensitivity to light and colour), Diana is a powerhouse and a force of nature. Always an encourager, she writes the most wonderful letters and for those of us who have helped steer the NEAC in recent years, knowing that Diana has been keeping a close eye on our antics has been invaluable. One of my favourite memories of being in Diana's company dates from Ken Howard's presidency, and the evening we entertained His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales to dinner in Ken's studio. We were all asked to arrange ourselves into little conversational groups so that the prince could mingle and meet us all. To my huge relief, I found myself in a little knot of painters that included Diana. I will admit to being nervous, convinced I was about to spectacularly put my foot in it. I needn't have worried as, turning to approach our group, Prince Charles spotted Diana from yards away, greeted her like a long-lost aunt and immediately the rapport that they both clearly enjoyed put us all at ease.” Richard Pikesley
“The New English is uniquely blessed to have Diana. She gives us a wise, honest centre with the benefit of her complete integrity. (No danger that she would ever be lured away by false gods; even the ones at Burlington House!) The Club was in the doldrums in the early seventies with just one exhibition a year at Mall Galleries. She was much involved in our vital early moves to be at least partly independent. This meant meeting in each other’s houses, and Diana's was the first. I remember spending a very happy inspiring evening at her home, picking her lots of climbing geraniums. We went on to have exhibitions in Aldeburgh, Anglesey and Cumbria, at Leighton House and at the Alpine Gallery which put us on a different map. And she has been a constant and affectionate friend to me for five decades.” Charlotte Halliday
“I have huge respect for Diana’s work and her opinion on painting, and I am lucky that she willingly shares it. I was very honoured when she gave me the Arts Club Award some years ago at the NEAC Annual Exhibition. She told me then that I had my tones 'just right’. I was delighted. Fifteen years later, she recently told me, “Your tone is good. Now you need to work on your colour”. I am not offended by this. She knows her onions and she does not flannel. My inaugural speech as NEAC President was at last year’s Critic’s Lunch and I was racked with nerves. After my twenty-minutes address, I collapsed in my chair and Diana leant over, touching my arm and said, “I always said to Ken, three minutes is optimum.” As ever to the point! Happy Birthday, Diana. You are an example to us all!’ Peter Brown a.k.a. Pete the Street (wrong colour but street nonetheless)
“We were hanging a members-only exhibition in South Audley Street, or maybe Mount Street, years ago when Bernard came in and told Diana that she had been elected an ARA. She was thrilled, saying she would never ask for anything again in her life . . . to which Bernard replied that in a couple of years she would be wanting to hang in the Tate!” Susan Ryder
"Yes! Wales can claim Diana Armfield as our own. The art and friendship of Allan Gwynne-Jones and Sir Kyffin Williams inspired her own work. His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales bid her paint him Spring Flowers. Strong and clear-minded, she is the comrade we want to stand with in our artistic enterprises. Her moral fibre made her a supporter of CND and other humanitarian causes. As a mother, as the muse of her husband Bernard Dunstan, and as a fine painter, we celebrate her 100th Birthday with great joy." Maurice Sheppard
“It was more than forty years ago that I discovered the work of Bernard Dunstan, and shortly afterwards, the work of Diana Armfield. They were both such an inspiration through their work, their books and their many articles. And then I discovered that they were man and wife. What a relationship! I remember Diana saying that for more than sixty years she had been able to wake up each day and start talking Art. Bernard and Diana had a wonderful relationship, never entering each other’s studio without being invited. Diana paints flowers – Bernard avoided this subject. Bernard painted the nude – Diana has avoided doing this. But, of course, Venice was to be shared. At one hundred year’s old, Diana is painting for an exhibition. Her touch is as sensitive as ever and her colour full of life. She continues to be an inspiration as she responds to Bonnard’s famous words, ‘It is not my intention to paint life, but to give life to painting.’ Thank you so much, Diana, and I wish you a wonderful one-hundredth birthday.” Salliann Putman