Charles Robert Owen Medley was born on 19 December 1905 in London, the son of Charles Medley, a copyright lawyer who was friends with many writers of the day. He was educated at Gresham's School, Holt, Norfolk (1919–23), the Byam Shaw School of Art in 1923–24, Royal Academy Schools in 1924, at the Slade School of Fine Art in 1924–26, and in Paris in 1926–28.
At school Medley was the friend of W H Auden, and first suggested that Auden might write poetry (although Medley did not know at the time that he had this effect). As described in his memoir, Drawn from the Life, in his early years he believed he was heterosexual (and therefore did not understand Auden's erotic intentions toward him until they spent a single weekend together after both had left school). Until he was seduced at 19 (he recalled later), "I was still under the illusion that I was entirely heterosexual."
In Paris in 1926 he met a dancer, Rupert Doone, with whom he lived for the rest of Doone's life. In 1932 he and Doone cofounded the Group Theatre (London), for which Medley served as artistic director, either designing the Group's productions or supervising designs that included masks by Henry Moore. Medley and Doone invited Auden to write plays for the Group, and through Auden Medley met Stephen Spender, Louis MacNeice, and others who became associated with the Group.
From 1929 to 1934 he worked with Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, and he exhibited paintings with the London Group from 1929. His first solo show was at the London Artists' Association in 1932. During the 1930s he worked mostly in various avant-garde styles. He had a painting in the International Surrealist Exhibition in London in 1936. In 1937 Medley founded the Artists' International Association (AIA), which promoted socialist and avant-garde art. In 1938 he chaired a widely-noticed debate between Realists and Surrealists organized by the AIA.
During the Second World War Medley served as an official war artist, and as a camouflage officer in the Western Desert.
He taught at the Chelsea Art School (now part of the Chelsea College of Art and Design) in 1945–49, at the Slade School of Fine Art in 1958–66, and as chairman of the faculty of painting at the British School in Rome in 1966–77.
In the 1950s he was one of the first English painters who turned to abstraction, but in later years returned to figurative painting. These last paintings are the most widely-respected of his works.
A retrospective exhibition was held at Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1963.
In 1982 he was appointed CBE. In 1985 he was elected to the Royal Academy. A centenary tribute at James Hyman Fine Art (a London gallery) in 2005 was accompanied by a catalogue with essays about Medley's work.
Based on a Wikipedia article.
- Robert Medley, Drawn from the Life, a memoir. Faber and Faber, 1983 isbn 0-571-13043-7 page 54
- Geoffrey and Natalie Barkas, The Camouflage Story (from Aintree to Alamein) Cassell 1952 Page 141.