Saturday, 24 March 2012

Leonard Rosoman OBE R.A.

House collapsing on two firemen, Shoe Lane
Leonard Rosoman, who died aged 98 on 21st February 2012, was the last surviving member of the select band of official British War Artists and is a name familiar to regular readers of this blog. His name was recalled during the post made on 12th August 2011, when this writer reported on the unveiling of the memorial plaque to Auxiliary Fireman Sidney Alfred Holder and recounted the story of how Rosoman himself had narrowly avoided Holder's fate of being buried alive beneath tons of red hot masonry.

So moved was Rosoman by this incident that he painted his now famous work entitled "House Collapsing on Two Firemen, Shoe Lane" which helped make his name as an artist and which brought him to the attention of Kenneth Clark, then Director of the National Gallery and chairman of the War Artists' Advisory Committee and which eventually ensured his appointment as an official War Artist in 1945. Ironically, Rosoman himself did not particularly care for the painting which made his name, feeling it too raw a depiction of an event which haunted him for the remainder of his life but none the less, it set him on the path to a successful career as an artist and illustrator in war and peacetime. I make no apology for showing Rosoman's haunting image once again above.

Leonard Rosoman was born in London on 27th October 1913 and won a scholarship to the Edward VII School of Art in Durham and later studied at the Royal Academy Schools and the Central School of Art in London. In 1938-39, still struggling to make a name for himself, he taught at the Reinmann School in London and in 1939 returned from Honfleur, France just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War.

Rosoman immediately enlisted in the Auxiliary Fire Service and served throughout the London Blitz and beyond. Apart from his painting of the Shoe Lane incident, he continued to paint in an unofficial capacity and his depiction entitled "A Burnt-out Fire Appliance" was regarded by him as being one of his first successful works.

HMS Formidable after being hit by a Kamikaze (IWM)

Following his appointment as an official War Artist, Rosoman was commissioned as a Captain in the Royal Marines and sent on his way to the Far East in the aircraft carrier HMS Formidable as an official War Artist to the Admiralty. He soon found himself once more in the thick of the action, including being on board when the carrier was struck by a Japanese Kamikaze aircraft whilst operating in the British Pacific Fleet off the Sakishima Gunto on 4th May 1945 (pictured above). Today, all of Rosoman's war work is in the care of the Imperial War Museum, London.

After the war, Rosoman had his first solo exhibition in 1946 at the St George's Gallery before returning to teaching the following year, firstly at the Camberwell School of Art, then from 1948-56 at the Edinburgh College of Art and later at the Royal College of Art, where one of his pupils was David Hockney. In addition to his teaching, Rosoman worked extensively as an illustrator for publications such as the Radio Times and also painted large-scale murals for the Festival of Britain, for the Royal Academy of Arts Restaurant at Burlington House as well as a ceiling that formed part of the restoration of the bomb-damaged Private Chapel at Lambeth Palace. He also exhibited widely in London and New York and was elected to the Royal Academy as Associate in 1960 and a full Academian in 1969. He was appointed OBE in 1981.

Leonard Rosoman was married twice, firstly to Jocelyn Rickard in 1961 which ended in divorce in 1969 and secondly to Roxanne Levy in 1994 who survives him.

Thanks to the work of Leonard Rosoman and his fellow War Artists, we have an invaluable illustrated record of the social history of the Second World War which otherwise may have been lost, or at best confined to the dry pages of history.

Printed Sources:

The Guardian - Wednesday 29th February 2012
The Forgotten Fleet - John Winton, Douglas Boyd Books 1989




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