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8:27am Thursday 24th February 2011 in Obituaries
Society artist John Merton, who was probably the most prolific portrait painter of the 20th century and whose subjects included the Queen and the late Princess Diana, died peacefully at the age of 97 at his home in Oare on Wednesday last week.
Although Mr Merton was internationally acclaimed for his paintings – many of them of aristocrats – he shied away from publicity and rarely gave interviews.
His most famous paintings were those of the Queen, one of her official portraits, and a triple-portrait of the Princess of Wales when she was 25, five years after her marriage to Prince Charles, and which hangs on public view in Cardiff City Hall.
Mr Merton and his wife Penelope, who died in 2009, had lived in Oare, for about 30 years and in Enford for the previous 40 years.
He was born in London, the oldest of the five sons of Sir Thomas Ralph Merton who was a well-known scientist and military inventor of his day.
As a boy at Eton, Mr Merton showed enormous talent as a draughtsman and he went up to Balliol College, Oxford, where he was allowed to study at the Ruskin School of Drawing instead of taking an honours degrees.
His father became interested in early Renaissance painting and took him on a number of visits to study Renaissance art in Italy – Botticelli in particular – which subsequently influenced his painting technique and style.
His first submission to the Royal Academy in 1948 caused a stir when the hanging committee objected to the triple portrait of society beauty Daphne Wall but the academy president recognised Mr Merton’s talent and threatened to resign if the painting was not hung. In the end the portrait was shown separately on an easel and received record viewings.
During the Second World War he served with the Royal Regiment of Artillery reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel and was awarded a Military MBE for his research.
On Monday Mr Merton was buried beside his wife of 70 years in the garden of their home with just family members present.
He is survived by two of three daughters and by his grandchildren who include the Marlborough sculptor Jesse Merton-Richards.