Saturday, July 10, 2010

Leonard Rosoman OBE RA (b.1917)

I really like Leonard Rosoman's work - whether he's painting, drawing or creating murals.  I saw some murals by him this week which hadn't really registered before and thought it was about time I highlighted this very talented artist - especially as he's 97 this year!  To my mind his art is going to live on in very many ways as he has a particular talent for recording life and events.

He was born in London in 1913 and has lived in London for most of his life.  His career has involved working as a traditional figurative artist, book illustrator and art school tutor.  He's maybe not one of the better known artists of his generation, however he is a very good artist and has exhibited extensively.

He trained at various art schools including the Royal Aacdemy Schools (1935-36) and then subsequently taught at Camberwell School of Art from 1946 to 1948, Edinburgh College of Art from 1948 to 1956, Chelsea School of Art and the Royal College of Art (1956-1978).   While at the Royal College he taught David Hockney and has a memorable quote about this experience in this record his radio interview for Desert Island Discs on the BBC.

 Murals by Leonard Rosoman in the Academy Restautrant at the Royal Academy

Rosoman the Academician (and recorder of Academicians)

His murals are in the Academy Restaurant at the Royal Academy of Arts and they focus on the activities within the building from  exhibition queues in the courtyard to Private Views to and classical statues in the Royal Academy Schools and the Life Class in the RA Schools Life Room. (see my sketchbook post Lunch at the Academy Restaurant at the RA and slideshow on Flickr)

He was elected as a Royal Academician (Painter) in 1969 and he appears to have become something of a recorder of matters relating to the Royal Academy.  Besides his murals in the Restaurant he also has a painting in the National Portrait Gallery - The Meeting which records all the Academicians participating in a meeting of the RA's Council.  (I'd add that this is a particularly bad photograph of the painting because the colour palette in the painting proper is nothing like this in real life.  I think somebody left their filter on by mistake!)

I particularly like the fact that this is a painter who also really enjoys drawing and creating figurative works in both senses of the word.  His paintings and drawings always seem to be created in layers and to have a narrative which needs to be teased out.  The painting of the Academicians is fascinating in terms of recording the character of the individuals and hence suggesting the tenor of how meetings are conducted.

The RA is not the only leading art society that he has recorded. Leonard Manasseh, a Past President of the RWA commissioned Rosoamn to make a painting to commemorate the RWA's 150th anniversary. 'The Council and Three Past Presidents of the RWA' was the result, which depicts a hanging day at the RWA.

 The Council and Three Past Presidents of the RWA

I just love the fact that his compositions of assembled groups never look forced and always prompt me to note how much he has observed and how he has recorded several small details which add weight and impact to the overall work.  He also demonstrates a sense of perspective without actually sticking rigidly to absolute correctness.  He creates realism without being hyper-realistic.

I think he's one of the artists who I've been most influenced by when sketching my groups in galleries, cafes and restaurants.  No matter how they come and go while I'm sketching I always try to have a semblance of narrative in the subject matter.

Rosoman the War Artist

He also recorded the second world war in art. He served as an Official War Artist to the Admiralty and in 1989 the Imperial War Museum had a retrospective exhibition of the artwork he created during the war.

During the Second World War, he served as a volunteer fireman in the Auxiliary Fire Service.  He featured in a recent Channel 4 television documentary about the Blitz in London (The Blitz - London's Longest Night) because of his experience of fire-fighting the blitz and the painting he created to record two AFS firemen being buried by a collapsing building in Shoe Lane.  His close friend and fellow firefighter survived the collapse.  However, the second fireman - who had just replaced Rosoman on the hose - was crushed to death under 15 feet of red hot bricks and masonry.

 House Collapsing on two Firemen, Shoe Lane, London EC4  
copyright Leonard Rosoman

Not surprisingly, the image haunted him for years and he created the painting as a result.  I would imagine an incident like that has quite an impact on how you spend your time and effort for the rest of your life.
I imagine you will not be astonished that not many paintings actually show air raids as they are in progress.  It has a purely practical reason: it was terribly dangerous to be out there, and unless you were a fireman artist or a civil defence artist, like Leonard Rosoman, you would not necessarily be an eyewitness of events.  One artist who tried to be an eyewitness, Felix Topolski was actually injured so badly that he had to stay in hospital for five weeks.  So we only have a handful of images of on-going raids, the fire fighting, the defence of the City, and I think the most famous one of these is Leonard Rosoman's 'A House Collapsing on Two Firemen'.
London at War - Ulrike Smalle

Rosoman's drawings

This is his drawing The Death of Actaeon, 1971 which was the Royal Academy Silver Jubilee Gift to HM The Queen in 1977.  The viewer allows you to zoom in on the drawing and you can see his vertical strokes and hatching marks which are so characteristic of his drawings.

His drawings were also used by Penguin for various Penguin Modern Classics covers - this one is for Aldous Huxley's Chrome Yellow.

He's always struck me as appearing to be a very quiet and unassuming man. However his work to my mind has lasting impact and I always very much enjoy seeing a new work by him in an exhibition. 

It has been said of Rosoman and his work that.....
Rosoman is a quirky artist ... It is his taste for quirkiness both in subject matter and form which enables Rosoman to move from intimate watercolours to public murals without his hand betraying any loss of spirit or enjoyment

Note:  The Battle of Britain started 70 years ago today. You can read more about it and the Blitz in the Imperial War Museum's blog about 1940)

1 comment:

  1. I have seen this haunting image of the firemen (in print) and it is remarkable to read the story. I was just reading to my son about the buzz bombs the other day, and was surprised to see the large casualty count from these, although that was post the blitz.

    I also notice that you bring us many World War images and notable stories, Katherine. I am happy that you do, and am your avid reader.


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