Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Alan Sorrell Part I

    A month ago (can it really be as long as that?) Ben Pentreath on his blog 'Inspirations' shared his discovery of the work of illustrator and author Rena Gardiner.  Reading about Rena's work my mind turned to one of my favourite illustrators: Alan Sorrell.  I first discovered his work as a child, firstly I suppose in our local library, and then on our annual holiday in Scotland where I found his work on postcards and in the guides available at Ancient Monuments:  St Andrews Cathedral and Priory; Dryburgh, Melrose and Jedburgh Abbeys.  A subsequent holiday in Wales bought further examples of his work.

    Alan Sorrell (1904 - 1974) trained firstly at Southend School of Art and then, after two years as a commercial artist, at the Royal College of Art.  His contemporaries there included Bawden.  During WWII he served as an Official War Artist with the RAF.  His is mainly remembered today for the beautiful drawings he produced re-constructing ancient sites - this side of his work was the result of a chance meeting with Kathleen Kenyon, 'the most influential female archaeologist of the 20th century', in 1938.  Some of these were produced for the Ministry of Works, others as book illustrations, such as the series produced for The Lutterworth Press in the early 1960s - 'Prehistoric Britain', 'Roman Britain', 'Saxon England', 'Norman Britain' and 'Medieval Britain'.  Although Alan Sorrell illustrated every one in the series, each book had a different author.  In 'Roman Towns in Britain' he wrote the text as well as drew the illustrations (published postumously by Batsford 1976).  He also produced a number of murals, including one for the Festival of Britain.
    Alan Sorrell's work is deeply atmospheric, evocative.  Neo-romantic.  The skies scowl with rain clouds.  Wind whips the smoke.  People gather in groups; they hurry to a race track in Roman Wroxeter; they flee a smoking Roman villa that is being sacked by Saxon raiders.  People shop, they listen to speaches and watch jugglers.  His pictures are more than mere re-constructions - they live.

    There will be an exhibition of Alan Sorrell's work later this year at the Sir John Soane's Museum (October 25th 2013 - January 45th 2014)

Roman Towns in Britain

Looking somewhat tatty.  As a child I bought, or was bought, this book in 'Bertram A Watts' - the bookshop in Sherringham, north Norfolk.  A visit to family in Norfolk would invariably conclude in Sherringham with a walk along the 'prom' and the bookshop.

The quayside, London.  The stream to the left is the Walbrook

 Venta Icenorum, from the air

 The Balkerne Gate, Colchester

The Forum, St Albans

The Baths, Wroxeter

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