'The Blizzard' (2007-8) by Fred Yates, one of the works offered at the John Martin exhibition.

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It is works like these that the artist is known for, down to the matchstick figures, vivid colours and slight sense of isolation.

However, during his career Yates produced a huge variety of works, from carefully detailed drawings to saucy experimental works to Lowry-esque scenes of northern city life. In Fred Yates Ever Onward, running at the Mayfair gallery until February 15, Martin seeks to show all sides of the artist.

It is the largest show at the gallery to date, comprising more than 70 works.


'Portrait of a Man', c.1980, by Fred Yates, one of the works offered at the John Martin exhibition.

Early works

Many sold even before the launch on January 23, especially those from a collection of older works on paper that the dealer sourced at a Paris auction several years after Yates’ death.

Hung together, many are torn, folded or bear notes the artist dashed off over time. These demonstrate his skill as a draughtsman and suggest an artistic bent from early in his life.

Unlike Derain, Yates’ early work is almost unknown. According to Martin, this physical link to his early life was important to the artist, who did not commit to his career as a painter until the late 1960s. It offered a line of continuity as he started exhibiting in his 50s and he kept the box of works on paper his whole life.


'Creeper Clad Cottage, Cheadle Hulme' (c.1948), by Fred Yates, one of the works offered at the John Martin exhibition.

The drawings date to the 1930s, but the watercolour Creeper Clad Cottage, Cheadle Hume (c.1948) is among the earliest paintings in the show, probably made shortly after the Second World War when Yates’ twin brother was killed.

The loss may have contributed to his life of isolation, during which he moved many times. He is generally associated with Cornwall, however, where he supplemented his income with odd jobs as a gardener as well as the production of paintings outdoors while chatting to passers-by.

“He painted every day so the quality could be uneven. He had some ‘B’ pictures,” Martin says.

The dealer adds that such works “do resurface from time to time”, though he has taken pains to include only the best in the show.

Market fluctuations

With the help of the exhibition, Martin hopes to stabilise the market for Yates, which had fluctuated following his death and the release of many of his works into the market in France, where he spent his later years.

Though the oils are generally to British taste, pockets of buyers also exist in the US. They are drawn to the Outsider art quality of his style.

Drawings are priced from £350-1500 and the oils from £2500-26,000.