THE ONLY woman to have been President of the prestigious Royal Institute of Oil Painters has died at the age of 84 after a battle with cancer.
Newport-born painter and sculptor Olwen Tarrant became the first president of the group in its 125-year history when she took over the presidency commenting that it wasn’t so long before her presidency that women weren’t even allowed to be full members.
She was president for five years, earning the chance to rub shoulders with royalty as she met many members of the Royal Family, including the Duke of Edinburgh, when they visited the Mall Galleries, the headquarters of the Institute.
The former Newport High School pupil also got to meet with figures such as Betty Boothroyd, the first female Speaker of the House of Commons, Dame Stella Rimington, boss of MI5 and the detective Novelist PD James amongst others as they discussed the works.
Mrs Tarrant won numerous awards for both painting and sculpture, wrote for art and county magazines, and gave lectures up and down the country.
The third of six daughters, the family lived for many years in Tennyson Road, Newport and her father, Mr Thomas Lewes was a channel pilot.
She stumbled into art when serious bouts of hay fever prevented her taking part in sports at Newport High, so she stayed in the empty classroom and began sketching.
He husband, John Tarrant, 86, who still lives in the couple’s home in Upper Welland, near Malvern in Worcestershire, joked "She was soon in trouble for her caricatures of teachers."
He went on to say that art had been his wife’s lifelong passion, and she had been hugely proud to have been president of an institution which had once exhibited works of her favourite sculpture, the French artist Rodin.
Mr Tarrant, said: "She never had time for anybody who said life was boring.
"She never ever forgot she came from Newport. She was very connected to Newport and South Wales and particularly loved the hills and the mountains.
"She always said she missed Newport, she never quite got used to the built up areas like London."