Anthony Day obituary

Anthony Day, who has died aged 100, was a painter and local historian of his village, Wicken, Cambridgeshire, and its surroundings.

Painting en plein air, Tony concentrated solely on landscapes of the fen country, poetic in spirit, updating the English landscape tradition. Until his insurance was refused in his 80s, he could be seen on his motorbike driving into fields with his painting equipment in and around Wicken.

He lived on almost nothing, growing fruit and vegetables in the garden of his home, Mangle Cottage, to subsist on. Living parsimoniously, with no hot water and a coal fire, he gained his main income from selling his paintings through annual exhibitions at the Old Fire Engine House in Ely, and the Cambridge Open Studios: his work was not expensive, but he had regular patrons.

Born in Wicken, the son of Florence (nee Reed) and Walter Day, a farm labourer, Tony attended the local village school. Aged 16, after the death of his father, the family moved to Cambridge and Tony served in the second world war in the Royal Army Medical Corps. On return, he obtained the ex-serviceman grant for teacher training in order to study art at Cambridge School of Art and then at Reading University (1948-1952).

He then worked at the Cambridge Arts theatre as a scene shifter and taught art at evening classes in the city, while still painting and making portraits to commission.

In addition, he reviewed exhibitions, and became a regular art critic for the Cambridge Evening News until the mid-1970s. He started to paint landscapes in oils and later acrylic, and harbour an ambition to return to the farmland village of his childhood. By selling his artwork, and bartering it for services such as conveyancing, plumbing and electrics, he managed to acquire and restore Mangle Cottage, overlooking the pond on the village green in the heart of Wicken, in 1975. He spent the rest of his life there.

As well as painting daily, Tony wrote local history. He published 14 books, including Turf Village: Peat Diggers of Wicken (1985), But for Such Men As These: The Heroes of the Railway Incident at Soham, Cambridgeshire in June 1944 (1994), and Times of Flood: Portrait of the Fenland Drowns in Old Photographs (1997).

Tony exhibited more than 80 times, in one-man shows at his friend Ann Jarman’s gallery at the Old Fire Engine House in Ely, and in many group exhibitions, including at the Royal Academy and Nuffield Foundation in London, and in Cambridge at the Heffer Gallery, Kettle’s Yard and in various colleges.

As the husband of one of his great-nieces, Alice, I knew Tony for 28 years. When persuaded away from his cottage he enjoyed family life, had a wry and playful sense of humour and was a great player of the Newmarket card game. He loved sport and always the followed the fortunes of Cambridge United FC. In later years he was supported and cared for by the people of the village.

He is survived by three nieces, Suzanne, Margaret and Rosemary. A fourth niece, Wendy, predeceased him.