What happens when an acclaimed artist loses his sight? The extraordinary story of British painter, Sargy Mann

Double Sunlight, Frances on the Stairs, 2004 48 x 60 inches. Oil on canvas © Sargy Mann

Sargy Mann was a British landscape and figurative painter. He was acclaimed as a colourist, and his diverse works are recognisable by their rich colour palette, distinct composition and a desire to capture a sense of light and space.

Mann’s distinctive vision was deeply influenced by Bonnard and Cezanne, but his paintings remain remarkably original. Affected by failing vision from the age of 36, Mann was compelled to find new ways of seeing and working – this creative liberation produced a celebrated body of work that continued after his total loss of sight in 2005.

You can learn more about his extraordinary story in a new exhibition next month at the Attenborough Arts Centre, part of the University of Leicester. The show, which has been developed in close collaboration with the artist's family, is the most significant public showing of Mann’s work to date and draws from all periods of his career. It includes an extensive collection of paintings and drawings, alongside never previously exhibited archival material, photographs and audio recordings that reveal fascinating insights into Mann's practice.

Figures by a River, 2015 78 x 72 ins. Oil on canvas © Sargy Mann

Figures by a River, 2015 78 x 72 ins. Oil on canvas © Sargy Mann

Frances in the Pink Chair, Yellow Background, 2006 42 x 38 inches. Oil on Canvas © Sargy Mann

Frances in the Pink Chair, Yellow Background, 2006 42 x 38 inches. Oil on Canvas © Sargy Mann

The exhibition centres around four groups of Mann's work made over three decades – the Late Lyndhurst Grove Paintings, a series of works begun in 1988, depicting the interior of Mann's home in Peckham and locations nearby; Mann’s house and garden at Bungay in Suffolk which he moved to in 1990; the painting 'The Family at Breakfast, Borgo Pace' (2004) accompanied by supporting material showing Mann’s process; and a group of later works which depict scenes of figures, often bathers by infinity swimming pools.

A section of the exhibition focuses on the moment in 2005-6 when Mann lost his remaining vision. It reveals three paintings including 'Frances in the Pink Chair, Yellow Background' which started Mann on a new way of painting. The works are shown alongside a film made by Mann’s son Peter during this time.

The Family at Breakfast Borgo Pace, 2004 60 x 78 ins. Oil on canvas © Sargy Mann

The Family at Breakfast Borgo Pace, 2004 60 x 78 ins. Oil on canvas © Sargy Mann

Warwick Gardens, 1989 55 x 80 inches. Oil on canvas © Sargy Mann

Warwick Gardens, 1989 55 x 80 inches. Oil on canvas © Sargy Mann

The Point Morning, 2005 50 x 40 inches, Oil on canvas © Sargy Mann

The Point Morning, 2005 50 x 40 inches, Oil on canvas © Sargy Mann

Also on show are smaller works, drawings and sketchbooks which explore Mann's need to understand the world through the act of painting and drawing. Material relating to his time as a teacher and his research into other artists is also on display.

Mann devoted considerable time to the study of other painters, most notably Pierre Bonnard whose quote "Let it be felt that the painter was there; consciously looking at the objects in their light already conceived from the beginning" is the inspiration for the title of the exhibition.

Sargy Mann: Let It Be Felt That the Painter Was There runs from 9 November 2019 until 23 February 2020 at the Attenborough Arts Centre in Leicester.