My favourite painting: Sir Laurie Magnus

'The delight of this painting is that I know the place and was a friend of the artist'

Sir Laurie MagnusStudio by the River, Summer, 1990, by Sargy Mann (1937–2015), 55in by 80in, Private Collection

Sir Laurie Magnus says:
The delight of this painting is that I know the place and was a friend of the artist. It shows views, including Sargy’s studio, from his garden beside the River Waveney in Bungay, Suffolk. It’s a peaceful spot, little changed for at least 100 years. Sargy’s sight was already failing, but his ability to present colours and objects in such a gloriously vivid way is a triumphant response to the worst disability that can afflict a visual artist. He was always wonderful company–witty, a formidable intellect, interested in everything, kind, dedicated to his work and irrepressibly creative and brave.

Sir Laurie Magnus is Chairman of Historic England

John McEwen comments on Studio by the River, Summer, 1990:
Martin O. H. Mann adopted his schoolboy nickname of Sargy. He spent his wartime childhood at his grandfather’s in Devon with his mother, whom he adored. After progressive Dartington Hall, he was apprenticed by Morris Motors, playing drums in an Oxford jazz trio with Dudley Moore.

He abandoned thoughts of a maths degree to enter Camberwell College of Art, where he was taught by Frank Auerbach and Euan Uglow. He subsequently taught painting at Camberwell for many years. In 1967, he started living as a guest of Elizabeth Jane Howard and Kingsley Amis. In their absences, he looked after the Amis boys, poker sessions one of their shared amusements. The arrangement ended when he married the painter Frances Carey.

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He began to lose his sight—‘It was a bugger, but I kept working… and my brain kept finding new ways to see the world’—and was registered blind in 1988.

In 1990, the now six-strong family moved to Bungay in Suffolk. The garden was on the River Waveney, the boundary with Norfolk; it had always been his dream to live on a river. He started this painting ‘standing on the river’s edge, looking past the large willow to the river on its right and the end of my studio and a shed which had become [his eldest son] Peter’s camp, on its left. It was a wonderful subject and I struggled with it for months’.

Mann regarded blindness as, in some ways, a liberation. As Peter Mann says: ‘What is interesting is that he could only paint the way he did because of blindness.