Renowned artist and former racing driver Sir Leslie Marr dies aged 98
- Credit: ARCHANT LIBRARY
The renowned landscape artist and ex-Formula One racing driver, Sir Leslie Marr, has died aged 98.
Born Leslie Lynn Marr on August 14, 1922, in Durham, Sir Leslie was widely known for his landscape paintings.
Now, his body has been donated to anatomical research at the University of East Anglia's medical school, in keeping with his wishes to help others.
His parents were Amelia “May” (nee Thompson), a pioneering early motorist, and Colonel John Marr, who had been an officer in the First World War and was managing director of the Laing shipbuilding firm in Sunderland.
In 1932, at the age of 10, he inherited a baronetcy from his grandfather and shipbuilder Sir James Marr on his death - his father had died the previous year – but did not use the title.
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He attended Shrewsbury school and studied engineering at Pembroke College, Cambridge, graduating in the 1940s. His university studies were interrupted by his wartime service as a Royal Air Force radio officer. During that period, he made his first improvisatory attempt at painting a self-portrait looking in a shaving mirror at a radar station in Palestine in 1944.
In late 1945, he was posted back to east London and attended evening art classes at Heatherley's Art School, Pimlico. Demobbed a few months later, he began studying under David Bomberg full time.
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In early 1948, he was elected secretary of the new Borough Group of artists, with Mr Bomberg as president. Fellow members included Dennis Creffield, Cliff Holden, Dorothy Mead, and Miles Richmond.
He had many one-man shows over the years, culminating in Leslie Marr at Ninety in 2012, at the Piano Nobile gallery, London.
A spokesperson for Piano Nobile said: “Marr belonged to a significant generation of artists that transformed the appearance of painting in post-war Britain. His genius is recorded by the work he leaves behind.
“Leslie's life was spent painting and exploring, two activities which often went hand-in-hand.
“He spent his life searching the wilds for the right subject, looking both abroad and at home.
“All those who knew Leslie acknowledged his calmness, strength of character, and intellectual clarity. He was in every sense a gentleman.”
Mr Marr remained a professional artist well into his 90s, and spent his time travelling and embarking on landscape and flowerscape painting trips in Britain, Spain, France, Greece, Cyrpus, and New Zealand – often in challenging weather conditions. Between 1983 and 1991, he lived and painted on remote Arran, in Scotland, before moving to his home and studio in Norfolk.
Many of his paintings are owned by private collectors, but one which takes pride place in Norfolk includes his work The Crucifixion, which was painted and presented by Sir Marr in 1970 to Binham Priory.
Originally painted in Scotland, the dramatic oil painting was created when Mr Marr forgot to take his paintbrushes on this trip and used rubber gloves to paint with instead.
In his personal life, he married artist Dinora Mendelson in 1948. They separated after two years and were divorced in 1956. In 1962, he married Lynn Moynihan and they had two daughters together – Rebecca, who predeceased him, and Joanne. The couple later divorced in 2000.
He married his third wife, Maureen Monk, in 2002, after the couple moved to Gimingham, near Cromer, together the year previously.
The 82-year-old explained how they had crossed paths many times before but began their relationship after being introduced by mutual friends at a garden party in Norfolk.
She said: “It was an amazing life with him – and being creative was what was important to him.”
She accompanied him on many painting expeditions, describing the experience as “an exciting time seeing him paint his landscapes in the wild”.
“It was important for him to feel what was in the landscape.
“He was a man who was interested in serious, imaginative, and meaningful conversations. He was mesmerising when he talked about his life.”
When the couple moved to Gimingham, they purchased a small cottage with a double garage which was converted into a large studio. And Mr Marr was also passionate about organic gardening, which he carried out at the cottage.
During the 1950s, he had a second career as a racing driver, participating in two Formula One world championship Grand Prix.
He made his debut in 1954 at the British Grand Prix, racing in his private Connaught where he finished in 13th place. He retired from his last world championship race in 1955.
Other highlights from his racing career include winning the 1955 Cornwall MRC Formula One race, finishing fourth in the 1956 New Zealand Grand Prix, and racing against Stirling Moss.
After he retired from racing, he briefly took up filmmaking but then returned to his beloved painting.
Mr Marr died on May 4 at his Norfolk home.
He is survived by his widow, daughter, and three grandchildren. He was succeeded as baronet by his first cousin twice removed, Allan James William Marr.
Although there will be no formal gathering, a celebration of his life is being planned for this summer.
- To view all the obituaries and tributes join the Facebook group Norfolk's Loved & Lost.