Sir John Soane’s Museum Presents First Major Alan Sorrell Survey

Sir John Soane’s Museum presents the first major survey of the work of British artist and illustrator Alan Sorrell (1904 – 1974). Entitled Alan Sorrell: A Life Reconstructed, (25 October – 25 January), the exhibition celebrates for the first time Sorrell’s rich artistic production, including never before exhibited pieces from his Neo-Romantic period, his paintings and sketches as a muralist and his production as a war artist, as well as well as his widely known works as an illustrator of landscapes and figure subjects with a strong interest in archaeology and history.  

Alan Sorrell: A Life Reconstructed explores the career of Sorrell through an impressive collection of nearly 50 works, offering unprecedented insight into the production of this prolific, and under-recognised, British artist.

Works on display include three recently restored panels of Working Boats from Around the British Coast, a celebratory mural commissioned from Sorrell by the Festival of Britain in 1951, for the Nelson Bar of the HMS Campania, an aircraft carrier that served as an exhibition hall; the panels, a centrepiece in the exhibition, will be accompanied by preparatory drawings and pencil sketches, offering a unique view into Sorrell’s artistic approach.

Visitors will also get a chance to view the artist’s work from the Second World War, when he served in the RAF, and drew and painted RAF’s everyday life with a touchingly personal perspective. Never an Official War Artist, the artist was able to choose his subjects with relative freedom, which resulted in an engaging record of daily life in wartime Britain.

The retrospective is completed by a collection of Sorrell’s early works from a two-year scholarship at the British School in Rome (1928-1930), in which the emerging power of his talent is already noticeable. A body of work from the artist’s Neo Romantic period, which flowered between the Wars, is also represented, with works such as The Long Journey, in which Sorrell used a sense of narrative that both intended to engage and unsettle the viewer.

Despite the rich and diverse career Sorrell explored as an artist, his most famed works are his reconstructions of historical sites, monuments and tableaux of ancient life, in particular his detailed works on Roman Britain. Reconstruction drawings will sit alongside Sorrell’s early works, in a seminal exploration of the full back catalogue of this esteemed artist.

Many of the works belong to the private collection of Alan Sorrell’s son, Richard Sorrell. He explains:

“My father was a prolific draughtsman and painter, who is perhaps known for the historical ‘reconstruction’ drawings of castles and abbeys, and prehistoric sites, seen as they would have appeared in their heyday. One of the aims of this exhibition is to put the reconstruction drawings in the context of his much larger oeuvre, and to demonstrate that all of his work was the product of an extraordinarily vivid imagination, that could breathe life into a wide variety of subject matter.”

Sir John Soane’s Museum Curator Jerzy Kierkuc-Bielinski comments:

“I am delighted that this exhibition, the first devoted to the works of Alan Sorrell, will be shown at the Soane. Sorrell did so much through his work to bring life to the lost archaeological sites of Roman and Norman Britain. I hope that this exhibition will bring to life the important legacy of Sorrell’s work”.

The Alan Sorrell: A Life Reconstructed exhibition runs from 25 October 2013 to 25 January 2014, during normal opening hours. Admission is FREE.
Alan Sorrell (1904–1974)
Alan Sorrell was a muralist, artist in oil, gouache and watercolour, teacher, illustrator of landscapes and figure subjects with a strong interest in history. Sorrell’s illustrations to Henry Loyn’s Norman Britain (1966), and Aileen Fox’s Roman Britain (1961), are exemplary in blending a clear, informative text with superb artistic reconstruction.

Born in London, Sorrell studied at Southend School of Art. He worked for several years as a commercial designer, entered the Royal College of Art, 1924-27, and then was awarded a scholarship to the British School at Rome, 1928.

Sorrell exhibited at the Royal Academy, the New English Art Club and the Royal Watercolour Society. Taught at the Royal College, 1931-48, during which time he visited Iceland. During World War II Sorrell served as a war artist with the Royal Air Force for several years, his work – which has a strong Neo-Romantic flavour, typical of its time – being held by the Imperial War Museum. Tate Britain, Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, Museum of London and National Museum of Wales in Cardiff also own examples.  In 1947 Sorrell married the designer and water colourist Elizabeth Tanner; of their three children, Richard and Julia became artists.  Sorrell completed a series of murals after World War II, including one for the Festival of Britain, 1951. He was commissioned by the Ministry of Works (now English Heritage) to make drawings of ancient monuments. Sorrell lived at Daws Heath, Thundersley in Essex.

Alan Sorrell: A Life Reconstructed is the first show by a 20th century artist exhibited at the Sir John Soane’s Museum.
ALAN SORRELL – A LIFE RECONSTRUCTED  25 October 2013 – 25 January 2014

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