HOME      PROJECT      PAINTINGS      EXPLORE

Anthony Devas


‘The public has been captivated by the quality of Devas' portrait paintings, their liveliness and engagement with the observer’ - Prosper Devas, son

The portrait, landscape and still-life painter Anthony Devas was born in Bromley, Kent in 1911 and lived and worked in London. He studied at the Slade School of Fine Art from 1927 to 1930. It was there that he met his future wife the artist and writer Nicolette Macnamara, daughter of poet-philosopher Francis Macnamara and sister of Caitlin, the future wife of Dylan Thomas. Initially linked to the Euston Road School, by the late 1930s he had established a reputation as a portrait painter. Devas had his first major show at Thomas Agnew & Sons Ltd in 1941 and was elected as a member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters in 1945. By 1952 he was an Associate of the Royal Academy and was commissioned to paint the Queen in 1957. He died in 1958 at the young age of 47 following ill health.

Devas's work is held in many public collections including Tate Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Royal Shakespeare Company, Bradford Art Galleries and Museums, Museum and Art Gallery, Derby, Manchester and Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston.

Anthony Devas, circa  1950.  Photographer unknown. By permission of Devas estate.

Anthony Devas, circa 1950. Photographer unknown. By permission of Devas estate.


‘Best known for portrait commissions, his ability to capture children was particularly noted. He was also a passionate and prolific painter of flowers, and a keen gardener who won the annual Chelsea 'best window boxes' competition on a number of occasions. A gregarious and popular person and a committed member of the Chelsea Arts Club, he wrote regularly in the press on the arts scene, particularly as it affected jobbing artists like himself. Although associated with the Euston Road Group, he was never really very interested in artistic isms, and always managed to earn enough through direct sales and commissions to be able to avoid the involvement in art teaching and the arts schools which debilitated so many of his contemporaries.’ - devas.org.uk

Devas served as an Air Raid Precautions warden in Chelsea during World War II due to ill health. Many of his paintings from this period are now considered to be among his best, and include Mrs Dylan Thomas (his sister-in-law Caitlin, painted in 1942-3), and a 1944 portrait of his close friend, the writer and poet Laurie Lee. He was also officially commissioned by the War Artists' Advisory Committee to paint a portrait of Mrs Creswick Atkinson (1947). Devas's last commission, 1958's Peggy Ashcroft as Imogen, was painted for the Royal Shakespeare Company and exhibited after his death at the Royal Academy in 1959.

The Aero commission


Anthony Devas painted numerous Aero Girl commissions between 1950 and 1957, including nine of the twenty original portraits held in the Rowntree & Co. Ltd archive at the Borthwick Institute for Archives. Other Aero Girl portraits by Devas are likely to have been sold into private collections.

Wendy c.1950

Wendy c.1950

Country girl c.1950

Country girl c.1950

Untitled c.1950

Untitled c.1950

Untitled c.1950

Untitled c.1950

Untitled c.1950

Untitled c.1950

Untitled c.1950

Untitled c.1950

Untitled c.1950

Untitled c.1950

Alice c.1950

Alice
c.1950

Untitled c.1950

Art student c.1950


Following World War II, Devas lived and worked at Rossetti Studios, in Chelsea, London. He was friends with fellow Aero artist Norman Hepple, who was resident at the same studios and knew both Henry Marvell Carr, and Paul Wyeth. All four artists were members of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, Devas and Hepple also being elected members of the Royal Academy of Arts during the 1950s and Carr later during the 1960s.

Like Hepple and Carr, Devas was a well-established painter by the time J. Walter Thompson commissioned him to produce work for the Rowntree's Aero Girls campaign. Unlike the younger student artist Frederick Deane, Devas had full control over the selection of his subjects:


‘They were portraits he had painted at the request of the sitter, or at his request. Someone involved in the advertising campaign asked if a head of a girl they had seen might be used in the Aero campaign, and the sitter having agreed, it was used. I remember my father saying that subsequently he was asked if he had any other such suitable portraits. I assume he invited a rep of the campaign to visit his studio.’ - Lady Monson, daughter

Devas captured important figures in his Aero adverts including Janey Ironside, Professor of Fashion Design at the Royal College of Art from 1956 to 1968, and the painter Rose Wylie, then an art student. He also painted artist Barbara Pitt, film director Stephanie Tennant whilst on holiday in Guernsey, lithographer Margaret Reade, and his personal assistant Sarah Ellis.

Written by Kerstin Doble

Sources and more on Anthony Devas

Esmond Devas (2001). Anthony Devas. Retrieved 6 March 2014

David Buckman (2006), Artists in Britain Since 1945, Art Dictionaries Ltd

Robin Gibson, Devas, (Thomas) Anthony (1911-1958), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. Retrieved 6 March 2014

Nicolette Devas (1966), Two Flamboyant Fathers, William Morrow

BBC/Public Catalogue Foundation. Anthony Devas. Retrieved 6 March 2014

Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin (1964), The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London

Tate Gallery. Anthony Devas. Retrieved 6 March 2014

National Portrait Gallery. Anthony Devas. Retrieved 6 March 2014


Back to the artists