Graham Ovenden

Graham Ovenden

Born on 11th February 1943, Graham Ovenden is an English artist, writer, painter, and photographer. Between 1954 and 1959, he went to Itchen Grammar School and Albert Ketèlbey taught him music in private. Before taking painting as a subject in 1962, Ovenden studied at Royal College of Music. John Betjeman and Lord David Cecil tutored him. He went to Southampton Art School and in 1968 completed graduation from Royal College of Art. In 1973, he shifted to Cornwall with his family. He was the founding member of Brotherhood of Ruralists, with Ann Arnold, Annie Ovenden, Jann Haworth, Peter Blake, Graham Arnold and David Inshaw.

In addition to his talents and skills, he is also a historian of photographs and a collector of photography from the Victorian era. He understands Victorian illustrations and photography, hence he has edited photo books, like Victorian Children, and Pre-Raphaelite Photography, 1972; Victorian Erotic Photography, and Hill and Adamson Photographs, 1973; Alphonse Mucha, and Clementina Lady Hawarden, 1974; A Victorian Album – Julia Margaret Cameron and Her Circle, 1975; Nymphets and Fairies, 1976; and etc.

Writings by him on photography and art, include On David Inshaw; The Black and White Art of Arthur Hughes; Jane and Elizabeth; A Liddell Family Album; The Pre-Raphaelites; and Ruralism and the New Romanticism.

Graham Ovenden’s work and the man himself have been featured in films and broadcasts, such as Summer with the Ruralists,1978; Figures in a Landscape: The Brotherhood of Ruralists, 1983; Robinson County: The Painter, 1987; Bats in the Belfy – Home Sweet Home, 1989; and World without Walls.

Ovenden’s work has been a topic of controversy since it portrays semi-nude and nude girls in their pre-pubescent age. The United States Customs held back a series of photographs, title States of Grace in 1991, for more than 6 months. After one year, the American Department of Justice labeled the work as sexually explicit and so it was illegal to own it, sell it or import it. However, in a hearing on the same issue in 1992, on the basis of evidences and verbal accounts, the court handed Ovenden his images back. After two months, they were available in America. In 1998, the censor board of New Zealand categorized States of Grace as suitable for everyone.

In 2000, it was announced by the Public Library of San Diego that Graham Ovenden is a major  photographer both historically and in the contemporary times as well. Also, that his work is artistically and culturally important and the work follows the guidelines of the library.

Until 2009, Ovenden’s photographs from the series Five Girls were permanently available at Tate Gallery. Due to a scandal that sparked over a Brooke Shields photograph, the work was no longer accessible on the internet.

In 2010, Scotland Yard’s Obscene Publications Squad seized some photographs by Ovenden, but returned them after Lord Hutchinson did a campaign with his fellow artists David Hockney and Hugh Casson.

Apart from this, there have been some more incidents when Ovenden’s work has been a target of censor authorities, courts and organizations. In fact, he was also accused for exploiting and abusing his young female models. However, the artist denied these accusations.

This was not all that was his work, Graham Ovenden also worked on the beauty and vastness of  landscapes. He did photographic studies of land and sea. For example at Sharpnose point, close to Morwenstow in Cornwall, he captured the flat and calm seas and the contrasting rocky mountains.


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