Cécile Crombeke was born in Bristol, where she attended La Retraite Convent School, leaving just before the Second World when she served in the Women’s’ Auxiliary Air Force. After the War she was awarded a scholarship to the West of England College of Art, qualifying in 1950.
She taught at La Retraite School in Burnham, from the late 50s until the school closed in 1984. During that time she organised Art Exhibitions of work by her students at the convent, as well as exhibitions of her own work at various galleries, including Royal Academy and the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. The nuns allowed her to work her time table so she could carry on with her own work, even providing her with a studio in the school. Although her time was limited, she never painted from photographs as she felt that portrait painting means interpreting the personality of the sitter.
She generally seems to have been appreciated as an Art Teacher. Quote from one student: Miss Crombeck was my sister’s hero and made going to school worth while.
Cecile lived in Brent Knoll and then, in retirement, near the Community Centre.
As well as paintings of the Somerset Levels and flowers, she specialised in portraits mainly of ‘ordinary people . Her work was denigrated at the time as being unfashionable.
She was painting a portrait of Auberon Waugh, when she was offered an introduction to his godfather, Lord Longford. This introduction was followed by five sittings which resulted in a portrait donated to the House of Lords and unveiled on 27 January 2010 at a reception hosted by the Lord Speaker. Lord Falkland, Chairman of the Works of Art Committee said;
‘This is an important addition to the picture collection at the House of Lords. We are delighted to be able to mark Lord Longford’s contribution over many years with this portrait, and members of my Committee were unanimous in agreeing to accept this most generous gift.’ The painting hangs in the Peers’ Dining Room.
Other portraits by Cécile Crombeke include mountaineer Chris Bonnington, former Home Secretary Lord Robert Carr, and Nobel Prize winning chemist Dorothy Hodgkin.
She died in Burnham Nursing Home in 2002, in the same building where she had spent many of her teaching years.
From a Press Release for an Exhibition of Cecile’s work at the Woodspring Museum in Weston:
“In these new paintings, she portrays the diverse faces of the Somerset Levels, under mist, frost, snow and flood, ever changing as the varying light transforms them.”
Thanks to pat Nicholls for research.
Below is a portrait done by Cecile Crombeke of Justin Downes, at 5 years old, when a pupil at La Retraite Kindergarten. This was supplied to us by Justin. He tells us that he was kept still for the portrait by a continuous supply of sweets.
For images of some of Cecile Crombeke’s other paintings see :