[1] Leonard Rosoman RA, Portrait of the Artist Painting the Ceiling, 1966. Photo: RA © Royal Academy of Arts, London

[2] Leonard Rosoman RA, The Promotion No. 1, 1968. Photo: RA/Prudence Cuming Associates Limited © Royal Academy of Arts, London

[3] Leonard Rosoman RA, Jumping Figure: Mojave Desert, 1970. Photo: RA © Royal Academy of Arts, London

[4] Leonard Rosoman RA, Upstairs and Downstairs, 1986. Photo: RA © Royal Academy of Arts, London

[5] Leonard Rosoman RA, Portrait of Sir Hugh Casson PRA in the Library Print Room of the Royal Academy, 1992. Photo: RA © The Artist's Estate

Artist of the Month - June 2017


Leonard Rosoman RA (1913-2012)

Leonard Rosoman RA led a successful career as an illustrator, painter, muralist and an Official War Artist in the Second World War. Rosoman was born in London in 1913 and educated at King Edward VII School of Art in Durham from 1930 to 1935. He studied at the Royal Academy Schools for a year then at the Central School of Arts and Crafts from 1936 to 1937. As a student he received his first commission as an illustrator for a paper on the archaeological discoveries along Hadrian's wall. In 1937 JBS Haldane, a renowned evolutionary biologist asked him to illustrate his children's book My Friend Mr Leakey.

In 1941, Rosoman joined the Auxiliary Fire Service and began creating paintings based on his experiences as a fire-fighter during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz. In 1943 he was appointed an Official War Artist to the Admiralty and two years later was asked to document the activities of the British Pacific Fleet. He sketched on the aircraft carrier HMS Formidable for three months, working them into finished paintings on dry land. Like many war artists, Rosoman's later work was profoundly affected by the events he witnessed in the war. He said 'no one was chosen for their ability to cope with what they saw but we did cope - as everyone else had to - and being put in certain positions where you have to cope is of great value to you as a painter'.

Rosoman taught mural painting at Edinburgh College of Art from 1948 to 1954 and created a mural for the Festival of Britain in 1951. In 1954, he organised an exhibition for Sergei Diaghilev at the Edinburgh Festival, in which he made a large mural of the art college with the help of his students. His Portrait of the Artist Painting the Ceiling shows the artist working on a mural (no longer visible) that he completed for the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington [1]. Rosoman was appointed a lecturer at the Royal College of Art in 1957 where he taught artists including David Hockney and Peter Blake.

In 1969 Rosoman was elected a member of the Royal Academy giving The Promotion No. 1 as his Diploma Work [2]. The subject was based on John Osborne's 1965 play, A Patriot for Me, which told the true story of Alfred Redl, the homosexual Austrian Chief of intelligence who was blackmailed by the Russians into working as a spy. The play was censored, particularly due to a ball scene in which members of the Viennese high society appear in drag. Rosoman, a fan of the theatre, asked Osborne if he could see a run of the play to sketch from. When the resulting paintings were exhibited at the Lincoln Centre, New York in 1968, Osborne wrote an explanation of how the series of over 40 works occurred. 'Seven or eight years ago I was brooding on the idea of writing a play about homosexuality, using it as a metaphor for isolation. It was no more than a mere germ but I hoped that if I let it feed on itself long enough I could one day put it to work as a fully developed organism.' He goes on to explain of Rosoman's paintings: 'they are clearly not illustrating the play or that particular production. They are, of course, his own response as a painter to the same material I addressed myself originally as a writer. My play was merely the point of departure for his own art.' The black and red border conveys the experience of witnessing a scene on stage.

After being awarded the Winston Churchill Fellowship in the early 1970s, Rosoman spent six months in America, travelling by train from New York to San Francisco. He sketched the interiors of trains and created a series of acrylic paintings of the Mojave Desert in North America. Jumping Figure: Mojave Desert was inspired by his memory of a girl jumping over a fence [3]. The figures in the series appear to dance on the canvas in a landscape that Rosoman described as 'magical.'

Already an established mural painter, Rosoman painted a mural for the restaurant at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1986 that depicts scenes of life within Burlington House. Upstairs and Downstairs shows the unseen world of the Royal Academy: a Summer Exhibition private view (upstairs) and a class at the Royal Academy Schools life room (downstairs) [4]. He said 'I really do now think it has become one of the liveliest establishments of its kind anywhere in the world. That's one of the reasons I've tried to put plenty of movement into the work.' The restaurant was open to the public each day so Rosoman had to work at night on a scaffold that had to be erected each time. Rosoman originally worked on the panels in his studio but the colours had to be altered when they were installed in the restaurant due to the lack of natural light. He explained 'there's a lot of orange and yellow, and artificial light takes those colours out, so I had to compensate. The location also has its problems: the arch that springs out from the middle, the white coffered ceiling above and counter below - all affect its final appearance.'

In 1991 the Royal Academy commissioned another work by Rosoman, this time a watercolour of Sir Hugh Casson PRA who had been President of the Royal Academy from 1976 to 1984 [5]. Rosoman received an OBE in 1981. In 2005, he was made an Honorary Fellow at the Edinburgh College of Art and continued working in his Kensington studio into old age.

There is a small display, Leonard Rosoman RA: Artist and Illustrator, in the Entrance to the Print Room open 1 June - 28 July 2017

A biography of Leonard Rosoman by Tanya Harrod has just been published by the Royal Academy.