Mary Fedden was born in Bristol in 1915, attending Badminton School, before moving to London to attend Slade School of Fine Arts from 1932-36. Whilst studying at the Slade, she met fellow artist Julian Trevelyan, whom she married in 1951. Upon graduating, she worked as a portrait painter, teacher, and stage designer for Sadlers Wells and the Arts Theatre. Later, she enjoyed a working relationship with Glyndebourne Opera House, for whom she designed a cover for their programme, in 1999. However, she was primarily an artist who painted landscapes and, later, the still lifes for which she is perhaps better known.
With the outbreak of war, Fedden entered the land army and proceeded to work for the war effort until peacetime, when she went home to Bristol. In 1949, she travelled with Trevelyan to Sicily, and it was here that both their relationship and her practice flourished. Upon their return, Fedden moved to London with him. Trevelyan encouraged her practice, although she was not to achieve true fame and a mature style until much later. Despite this, she exhibited steadily throughout her life at the Redfern Gallery from 1953, the New Grafton Gallery from the 1960s, and the Arnolfini Gallery from 1984.
For the Festival of Britain, in 1951, Fedden was commissioned to create a mural, work that she reprised for schools, hospitals, and a P&O liner. One of these, for Charing Cross Hospital, she created with Trevelyan. He had a great influence on her work, and one can see how each encouraged, and, in some ways, emulated the style of the other. Trevelyan’s most significant impact on Fedden can be seen in the way that she begun to draw with a thoughtful line in a more stylised manner.
In 1956, Fedden became the first woman to teach in the Paintings School at the Royal College of Art, a post that she held for eight years, teaching young artists such as Allen Jones and David Hockney. From there she moved to the Yehudi Menuhin School, in Surrey (1965-70).
In the later years of Trevelyan’s life, Fedden took over his care (following a vicious bout of meningitis in 1963) and the encouragement of Trevelyan’s work, which sometimes meant that her own was neglected. He died in 1988, and, despite the immense tragedy of her loss, Fedden came to greater recognition and far greater popularity, somewhat side-lining the similar work of her husband. She was elected a Royal Academician in 1992, and, in 1997, made an OBE. She also maintained strong links to the Royal West of England Academy, where she was President from 1984-88 and had a retrospective exhibition in 1988. She died in 2012, with works held in collections across the UK, and with a strong following. Her still lifes are perhaps the best representatives of her work as a whole, with simple, emblematic objects standing in front of empty landscapes—a human presence suggested, but not shown.