Artist, 70, found guilty of six charges of indecency with a child and one of indecent assault relating to photographic sessions.
Caroline Davies and Steven Morris
|Graham Ovenden, pictured in his studio, denied his pictures of children were indecent, but was found guilty on six counts at Truro crown court. Photograph: SWNS.com|
An internationally renowned artist and photographer, whose work has included portraits of nude children, has been convicted of historic sex offences against young girls dating back 40 years.
Graham Ovenden, 70, whose early tutelage was under Sir Peter Blake, the "godfather of pop art", was found guilty at Truro crown court of six charges of indecency with a child and one of indecent assault.
Ovenden, who at the height of his commercial success exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Tate in London, and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, was acquitted of two charges of indecent assault and found not guilty, on the direction of judge Graham Cottle, of three further charges of indecent assault.
The artist, who described himself as creator of "some of the best portraits of children in the last 200 years", had denied the charges relating to four girls who were aged between six and 14 years at the time of the offences, which occurred between 1972 and 1985. The court heard these children sat for him during photographic sessions when he "posed them indecently".
He was not in court to hear the verdicts, having been taken ill at the weekend.
Ovenden, of The Garage in Barley Splatt, near Bodmin Moor, Cornwall, whose work has hung in some of the world's finest galleries, had rejected claims he had a sexual interest in children.
But the prosecutor, Ramsay Quaife, told jurors during the five-week trial that he was "a paedophile". His portraiture was part of a ruse to abuse young girls, making them dress in Victorian clothing before removing it and committing indecent acts. The incidents took place at his former home in Hounslow, London, as well as in north Cornwall, where he had a studio.
Ovenden had denied the abuse ever happened, telling the court he had taken pictures of children – including those in various states of undress – but said they were not indecent.
From the witness box, he quoted biblical and literary works to justify his use of naked children as part of his "state of grace" body of work. He argued: "We're not born with trousers, skirts, shirts and shoes. One of the great qualities of art is to go back to the great point, the Garden of Eden."
He told the court: "I have to say the absolute witch-hunt which is going on at the moment – and the idea of a child naked as something to be frowned upon – is absolutely abhorrent."
The artist, who had been tutored by Lord David Cecil and Sir John Betjeman, attended the Southampton School of Art and graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1968, before embarking on a career in which he catalogued life on the streets of London and produced acclaimed countryside landscapes as well as portraiture of children.
In 1975, he founded the artistic movement the Brotherhood of Ruralists – artists who had left the city to live in the countryside.
He had since sold his home at Barley Splatt, though he remains on the sprawling estate, living in a converted outbuilding, but he described it as a place where writers, musicians and artists would gather.
Children, he said, would regularly discard their clothing when they were playing at the home, often accompanied on visits by parents.]