Artist whose work was loved by Nigella, Charles and Diana and John Major

Nicholas Barnham became a renowned painter of Norfolk coastal scenes. 

Nicholas Barnham became a renowned painter of Norfolk coastal scenes. - Credit: Supplied by the family

Tributes have been paid to a Norfolk artist whose works were bought by Prince Charles and Princess Diana, John Major and Nigella Lawson.

Nicholas Barnham, who lived in Wells-next-the-Sea, died in February, aged 81.

Mr Barnham had been an artist for around 60 years and was renowned across the UK for his paintings and prints of Norfolk scenes, landscapes, boats and wildlife.

His paintings and prints of Norfolk scenes, landscapes, boats and wildlife made him one of the most distinctive painters in the UK. 

A watercolour of Wells-next-the-Sea by Nicholas Barnham.

A watercolour of Wells-next-the-Sea by Nicholas Barnham. - Credit: Supplied by the family

Mr Barnham was born in Walsingham and attended Glebe House school in Hunstanton and the Royal Masonic School in Bushey, Hertfordshire. 


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He went on to learn painting and stone carving at the Norwich School of Art and then went to teacher training college - his first post being at five schools on the remote Shetland islands of Yell and Unst. 

Mr Barnham and his first wife, Anne, moved to Yell in 1961, where they were warmly welcomed by the locals. Their home had no running water and an unpredictable electricity supply which meant they often had to use oil lamps. Pumping water from a well and cutting peat for the fire became daily tasks. 

Nicholas Barnham became a renowned painter of Norfolk coastal scenes. 

Nicholas Barnham became a renowned painter of Norfolk coastal scenes. - Credit: Supplied by the family

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Mr Barnham traded one of his paintings for a boat he named Henrietta which he had for many years and later used for fishing trips with his grandchildren.

The growing family - three of their six children were born in the Shetland Islands - moved to Cambridgeshire in 1967 and Mr Barnham taught at Cambridge College of Arts and Technology. He built a partnership with the Thackeray Gallery in Kensington who became great supporters of his work over the years. Mr Barnham also had bi-annual exhibitions at the Old Fire Engine House in Ely.

Anne was also an artist, and in 1974 they moved to Burnham Market and set up the Garden Studio to show their own work and that of other local artists and crafters. Mr Burnham also helped set up the Burnham Market Craft Fair.

Nicholas Barnham became a renowned painter of Norfolk coastal scenes. 

Nicholas Barnham became a renowned painter of Norfolk coastal scenes. - Credit: Supplied by the family

Mr Barnham’s art was shown across Europe in cities including Hamburg, Gothenburg and Stockholm.

One of his daughters, Esther Wildsmith, said of the family’s early tours to exhibitions in a Volkswagen campervan: “We were camping during the day, and when it came to the evening of the private view we were introduced to everyone, we realised at that point that dad was far more than just ‘dad’.”

After the breakdown of his first marriage Mr Barnham spent time in Cambridge, North Yorkshire, France, Cornwall and Shetland - all locations which feature in his prints and paintings. He moved to Wells in 1987, met his second wife, Bibi, and they married in 2000.

Among Mr Barnham’s patrons were former prime minister John Major, who chose two paintings for the Government Art Collection.

One of the paintings by an East Anglian artist on exhibition after being stashed away for more than

A landscape painting of Ickleton, Cambridgeshire, by Nicholas Barnham. - Credit: SUBMITTED

Prince Charles and Princess Diana chose one of his works for a wedding gift, and Nigella Lawson was a collector of his paintings, having purchased six major pieces. Actor Tim Piggot-Smith, when asked to choose his 10 most loved possessions, included one of Mr Barnham’s watercolours.

Mr Barnham said of his love of art: “I have to draw or paint. It’s a compulsion and if I go a day or two without doing it I become utterly impossible."

He said that although most of his works were based on observation: “The difficult pictures are the ones where you try to do something else as well - the ones where you are involved with your feelings about the place, not just what you see.”

When comparing painting East Anglian scenes to Shetland, he said: “The sky and the sea and boats are the thing they’ve got in common. The west coast and the western isles have some wonderful brooding skies but it is never the same. There is a starkness about the east coast and Shetland, but curiously enough another thing I do is tree pictures, and they couldn’t be more different in terms of landscape.”

Mr Barnham had eight children: Reuben, Hannah, Esther, Francesca, Aaron, Rosie, Laura and Gabriel. A JustGiving fundraiser has been set up in his memory for the British Lung Foundation.

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