Queen's artist dies at home aged 86

Artist James Alder, who was born into a Tyneside working class community and went on to paint for the Royal Family, has died.

James Alder

Artist James Alder, who was born into a Tyneside working class community and went on to paint for the Royal Family, has died.

He passed away peacefully, aged 86, at his home in Ponteland in Northumberland on Sunday.

Yesterday James, a painter, illustrator and sculptor of animals, birds and plants, was described as the successor to the great North-East naturalist, engraver and artist Thomas Bewick.

He was born the son of a docker in 1920 near the riverside at St Ann's in the east end of Newcastle. He retained a deep affection for his roots and served as patron of the Friends of the 18th Century St Ann's Church, producing work to help raise funds.

A wildlife enthusiast, he was also president of the Natural History Society of Northumbria and a founder member of Northumberland Wildlife Trust.

The pinnacle of his career was a commission in the early 1990s from the Queen Mother to produce an illustrated Birds and Flowers of the Castle of Mey - one of her favourite spots in Scotland.

The Queen liked it so much she asked James to create a book on The Birds of Balmoral. When working on the books, James enjoyed audiences with the Queen and tea with the Queen Mother, and he and his wife Lilian were invited to a picnic with the Queen Mother on the River Dee.

James's talent was apparent as a young boy, and when his mother went shopping in Newcastle's Grainger Market, she would bring back a single flower for her son to draw. He would go on to carve out a career as one of Britain's leading wildlife artists with a huge following in his native North-East.

He attended the Royal Jubilee School where a Salvation Army hostel now stands.

James won a scholarship, which entitled him to evening class instruction at King's College, later to become Newcastle University, and at 13 he held his first exhibition at the Jubilee School - an event recorded in 1933 by a Journal photographer.

At 15, James was working in the art department of The Journal and Evening Chronicle.

After serving as an RAF wireless operator in the Second World War, he began an illustrated weekly nature article in the Evening Chronicle which ran for 20 years, and he also contributed a regular spot on the Tyne Tees TV children's programme Happy Go Lucky.

The Royal Worcester Porcelain company appointed him as consultant sculptor, with his creations of birds and flowers being turned into china models.

As a consultant to the RSPB, he helped the organisation revamp its image.

The original, limited-edition, leather-bound books on the Castle of Mey and Balmoral cost £1,000 each, but later a volume which combined 50 illustrations from the books was the first venture by Northumbria University's new publishing arm at £30.

The university also awarded James an honorary doctorate of civil law.

His last major work was five years ago when he was invited by the Chillingham Wild Cattle Association to paint the famous Northumberland white herd. Prints of his watercolour went on sale to raise money for the upkeep of the herd and the 350-acre Chillingham Park in which they have roamed for 700 years.

James leaves a wife, Lilian, and sons James, who lives in Ponteland, and Roderick, who lives in Corbridge.

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Towering figure in nature

Tributes poured in yesterday for wildlife artist James Alder.

Marshall Hall, author of The Artists of Northumbria, said: "James was a towering figure of natural history and wildlife illustration in the region for almost half a century."

Peter Davis, chairman of the Natural History Society of Northumbria, said: "This is a huge loss for us. James was a delightful, witty and affable man who was also a field naturalist and carried out a lot of research over many years."

Mike Summersby, secretary of the Friends of St Ann's, said: "This is a sad loss. James was extremely generous to St Ann's and he never lost his affection for the area around the church where he grew up."

David Hirst, of the RSPB, said: "His work in promoting the wildlife of the North-East is legendary and he produced the most beautiful images."

Mike Pratt, chief executive of Northumberland Wildlife Trust, said: "His interest in nature conservation was second to none and his infectious enthusiasm will be greatly missed."

Bidders at Anderson & Garland's Newcastle auction were told from the rostrum of James's death yesterday. A copy of his Birds & Flowers of the Castle of Mey, from a limited edition of 1,200 signed copies, sold for £400.

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