Charles Debenham was born in Colchester. He was educated at Colchester Royal Grammar School, then at the Colchester School of Art where, from 1948 he spent five years. In 1953 he obtained a National Diploma of Design (NDD). At the Colchester School of Art his teachers were Blair Hughes-Stanton (1902-1981) (q.v.) for life drawing, John O’ Connor (1913-2004) (q.v.) and Carel Weight (1908-1997) before he became Professor of Painting at the Royal College of Art.
In the early 1960s he was appointed designer for The Office of the Crown Agents, for whom he designed, among other things, postage stamps. Later he became design consultant for numerous prestigious companies and organisations, including Anglian Water; National Rivers Authority; National Power; National Grid (for whom he designed Visitor and Educational Centres); the London International Boat Show and the World Travel Market at Earls Court; London Electricity (for whom he designed the costumes and giant floats for the Lord Mayor’s Show and Battersea Easter Parade in the 1970s and 1980s); The Royal Wedding Exhibition (Charles and Diana) at St Paul’s Cathedral where he was introduced to the Queen Mother; the pavilion for Bowater at the International Fair, Cairo (for which he was awarded top prize) in 1976; the Paris Expo of 1980; the Basel Expo of 1981 where he designed the USA National Pavilion; and the Merchant Navy which commissioned him to create their float for the parade to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of WWII.
In parallel to this very productive career, Charles Debenham kept painting the buildings and some landscapes of East Anglia, as it still is the case today. He also taught at Greyfriars Adult Education Centre, Colchester. One of his students was Elaine Coppen (q.v.).
He has been an active member of the Society from 1951 to the present day and became an Honorary Member in 1973. He was Chairman from 1974 to 1990. In 2006 he published a book on 50 years of Paintings and Drawings of Colchester and neighbouring towns (see bibliography for details).
Nayland is a fine example of the careful and precise work produced by Charles Debenham, for whom the “streets are his studio”, as Sally Patrick of Hayletts Gallery rightly observes (see link). Over the years he has sketched and painted numerous scenes from local towns and villages in East Anglia, including Nayland in Suffolk. In these paintings he adds charm and details of everyday life. His work which is essentially figurative has a strong adherence to 'traditional' skills. Painting in oil and using a muted palette, Charles paints outdoor most days, on the spot, and divides his paintings into two categories: the “wet weather paintings” and the “fair weather paintings”. In the case of the former they are paintings which he does under cover when it drizzles. In terms of composition he starts every time by establishing what he wants. Then he composes a sketch in which he continually makes corrections and changes. Painting a building is to him like painting a portrait. Each building has a personality. As for the size of the paintings they are usually the same for the simple reason that they fit in a paint box which he made himself and which he carries around on his painting outings. On these outings many people continuously stop and talk to him, something he particularly enjoys in moderation.
1961-2012, The Minories, Colchester; Debenham and Dodds: Landscape, People and Places, 1968; Debenham: Skies and Fields, 1973; Home and Away: Charles Debenham, Andrew Dodds and Dione Page, 1983; 2006, 2012 (solo exhibitions)
1970 Gainsborough’s House, Sudbury
1988-2009 The Royal West of England Academy
1990s and 2015 The Beecroft Gallery, Westcliff-on-Sea
1996, 2000, 2006 Chappel Galleries, Chappel, Essex
2001 The Brotherhood of Ruralists (a British art group founded in 1975 in Wellow, Somerset to paint nature)
2002 The Mall Galleries, London, The Federation of British Artists exhibition and The Discerning Eye andNew English Art Club
2011-2015 Geedon Gallery, Fingeringhoe, Essex
2014 Hayletts Gallery, Maldon, Essex
Also The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition (for 4 decades) and Epping Forest District Museum
Works in Public Collections
Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service
Epping Forest District Museum, Waltham Abbey, Essex
University Campus Suffolk, Ipswich
Madison Museum of Fine Art, Madison, Georgia, USA
BUCKMAN, David, Charles Debenham’s East Anglia, Samsom & Company, 2000
DEBENHAM, Charles, From the Other Side of the Street, firstsite publications, 2006
WHO’S WHO IN ART, Debenham, Charles, Art Trade Press, 2004, p.197