Ralph Nuttall-Smith (1898-1988)

Bossoms Boatyard, Oxford, 1950, Pencil on paper, 10 x 14 ½ in

[CAS 13] Acquired in 1965



Ralph Nuttall-Smith was a sculptor, painter and teacher, born at Abbeyleix, Ireland. He spent the first years of his life in South Africa where he attended Miss Watermeyers School in Wynberg, a residential suburb of Cape Town (1903), and the Diocesan College in Rondebosch, also in Cape Town (1906). Two years later he attended Cheltenham College (1908) then went to Marlborough (1910) and finally Clifton College, Bristol in 1911. In 1915 he was working for Brunner, Mond & Co (1) in Northwich, Cheshire, until he joined the Army Service Corps in 1916. In 1917, he was training as a young officer in No 22 Officer Cadet Battalion (OCB), located in Magdalene College, Cambridge; upon passing out he joined the Royal Flying Corps until the end of the First World War. After the war he studied chemistry at Trinity College, Oxford, where he gained an honours degree (1921). This was followed by two years at Yale University, where he obtained a PhD in chemistry in 1924, and became a member of staff there. In 1925, he went back to London, where he attended University College London Graduate School, doing postgraduate chemistry research.

At about the same time, however, Ralph became interested in fine art and started to paint under the tuition of Bernard Meninsky (1891-1950) at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London. In 1928 he attended the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London. This was followed by four years from 1930 to 1934 in Zurich, where he was a disciple of the Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist, Dr Carl Jung, and was taught modelling and sculpture by Alfons Magg (1891-1967). He then spent four years in Paris, from 1934 to 1938, as a working sculptor and painter. In 1938, when back in London, he became Secretary of the School of Drawing and Painting, at 316 Euston Road, at the time when a group of British Realist Artists formed the Euston Road School until its closure at the outbreak of the war. Then in 1940, when the Slade School of Fine Art moved to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, because of the war, and because the current Secretary Leonard Elton, M.C.(2), had been called to the War Office, someone had to be found in a hurry to replace him, and Ralph was asked by Professor Randolph Schwabe (1885-1948) to take over at two days’ notice, a post he held for nine years until 1949. This was followed by 16 years, still at the Slade, teaching Drawing and Perspective under Professor William Coldstream (1908-1987), between 1949 and 1965.

From 1959 to 1965 he was also a member of staff at the Camberwell School of Art, London, where he taught modelling and sculpture. He ended his career at the Colchester School of Fine Art, where he taught for seven years from 1966 to 1973.

In 1936 he had married Katherina Comes (1903-1981), by whom he had two children, John (b.1938) and Christopher (b. 1941), but divorced, and in 1959 married the illustrator of Paddington Bear, Margaret “Peggy” Fortnum (b.1919). They lived in West Mersea, near Colchester, Essex, for many years.

He was a member of Colchester Art Society and exhibited at the Royal Academy and the Ashmolean as well as at the Minories in Colchester.


Ralph Nuttall-Smith was a sculptor and a painter whose terracotta figures were especially well designed. His portraits of friends and family were also particularly realistic.

This charming pencil drawing, exhibited at the Minories in 1970, illustrates the ancient Bossoms Boatyard, situated at the Bossoms Marina, on the banks of the Thames at Binsey Village, about a mile West of Oxford. The Marina has been described as the most beautiful mooring on the Thames, with its berths lining a peaceful channel at Fiddler’s Island, where one has a stunning view of the Oxford spires rising over Port Meadow, England’s oldest Common. The perspective in this drawing is particularly individual.

Selected Exhibitions

1944 The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

1967 The Royal Academy, London

1967-68, 1970-73 and 1975, Colchester Art Society exhibitions

1970 The Minories, Colchester, Retrospective of Sculpture, Paintings and Drawings, CAS sponsored exhibition (which included Bossoms Boatyard)


BUCKMAN, David, Dictionary of artists in Britain since 1945, Art Dictionaries Ltd, Bristol, 1998, p. 917

HASSELL, Geoff, Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts, 1995, p.133

NUTTAL-SMITH, Ralph, A Sculptor in Paris, The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Vol. 83,

No. 486 (Sep., 1943), pp. 224-228

University of Glasgow, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Henry Moore Institute, Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland 1851-1951 

Bossoms Boatyard

(1) The Brunner Mond was a British chemical firm which, upon merging with three other companies in 1926, became the dominant component of Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), for decades one of the world’s leading chemical firms.

(2) Leonard Sidgwick Elton, M.C., was to become a Regional Officer in the Commonwealth Department of the British Council