Alan Sorrell

Alan Ernest Sorrell (11 February 1904 – 21 December 1974) was an English artist and writer best remembered for his archaeological illustrations, particularly his detailed reconstructions of Roman Britain. He was a Senior Assistant Instructor of Drawing at The Royal College of Art, between 1931–39 and 1946–48. In 1937 he was elected a member of the Royal Watercolour Society.

Alan Sorrell
Alan Sorrell self-portrait
Noted archaeological illustrator
Born 11 February 1904
Died 21 December 1974 (aged 70)
Nationality English
Education The Royal College of Art
Known for Watercolour, Archaeological illustration
Movement Neo-romanticism
Elected Royal Watercolour Society

Early life

Sorrell was born in Tooting, London and moved to Southend, Essex, at the age of two.[1] The son and second child of Ernest Thomas Sorrell (1861–1910) a jeweller and watchmaker and his wife Edith Jane Sorrell née Doody (1867–1951), Alan Sorrell would often go, with his father on trips away drawing landscapes as a child.[1] However, most of his childhood was spent confined to a bath chair due to a suspected heart condition.[1] The early death of his father also resulted in Sorrell being very reclusive.[1]

Early career

Sorrell trained at the Southend municipal school of art and, after a brief spell as a commercial artist in London, he attended the Royal College of Art between 1924 and 1927.[1] Whilst there, he met William Rothenstein who would act as a mentor for Sorrell and became a close friend.[1] In 1928, Sorrell won the British Prix de Rome in Mural painting and spent the next three years at the British School at Rome.[1]

Sorrell returned to England in 1931 and became drawing master at the Royal College of Art where his contemporaries included Gilbert Spencer.[1] He began his archaeological reconstruction drawings after a chance meeting in 1936 with Kathleen Kenyon on a dig of a Roman site in Leicester, who asked him to produce illustrations for her article for The Illustrated London News. More commissions then followed at Maiden Castle, in collaboration with Mortimer Wheeler, and at Roman Caerwent and Carleon, in collaboration with Cyril Fox and V. E. Nash-Williams of the National Museum of Wales.[2]

World War Two

Southampton Dock by Alan Sorrell, 1944, (Tate N05731)
Southampton Dock, 1944, (Tate)
FIDO in Operation (Art. IWM ART LD 5593)
FIDO in Operation, 1945, (Art.IWM ART LD 5593)

During World War II, Sorrell worked in the Royal Air Force in 1940, and then was transferred to the Air Ministry in 1941, applying his artistic talents to help camouflage aerodromes.[1][3] For a time he worked in the high security Central Intelligence unit at RAF Medmenham, where he was part of a team working on terrain models for bombing missions, and on models of battleships, such as the German battleship Tirpitz .[4] Sorrell later claimed that he had refused to work on terrain models of cities he thought were of "irreplaceable artistic importance".[5] He created artworks of air force life in his spare time as well as completing several short-term commissions from the War Artists' Advisory Committee, WAAC, to depict airfields and runway construction. In total WAAC acquired some 26 paintings from Sorrell.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Sorrell, Mark,Sorrell, Alan Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, accessed 11 December 2011
  2. ^ Sorrell, Julia; Perry, Sara; Johnson, Matthew (November–December 2012). "Alan Sorrell: The Man who created Roman Britain; The Alan Sorrell Archive". British Archaeology: 22–27.
  3. ^ "C A M O U P E D I A".
  4. ^ Alastair W. Pearson: Cartographic and Geographical Information Science Vol.29, No 3, 2002, pp. 227–241
  5. ^ a b Sacha Llewellyn & Paul Liss (2016). WWII War Pictures by British Artists. Liss Llewellyn Fine Art. ISBN 978-0-9930884-2-1.
  6. ^ "Hysteria Gloom and Foreboading" by Mke Pitts in British Archaeology July/August 2005 No 83
  7. ^ a b Reconstructing the Past by Alan Sorrell, edited by Mark Sorrell, 1978.
  8. ^ "An Artist's memories of a living wood" by Julia Sorrell, Living Woods No 20, Jan/Feb 2012 pp 20–21,
  9. ^ a b c d 20 paintings by or after Alan Sorrell at the Art UK site
  10. ^ Woodland Trust: Julia Sorrell Archived 26 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ "An Appreciation of Trees by Julia Sorrell".
  12. ^ Imperial War Museum: Alan Sorrell. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  13. ^ Liss Fine Art: Works by Alan Sorrell. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  14. ^ London Transport Museum: Artist – Alan Sorrell. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  15. ^ Museum of London: Alan Sorrell. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  16. ^ Sir John Soane's Museum: Alan Sorrell Exhibition 25 October 2013 – 25 January 2014. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  17. ^ Tate Gallery: Alan Sorrell. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  18. ^ "Search - National Museum Wales". National Museum Wales.
  19. ^
  20. ^ Government Art Collection. "Government Art Collection - Artists".
  21. ^ "Redirect: Artists".
  22. ^ "Alan Sorrell: Early Wales Re-created" National Museum of Wales, Cardiff 1980
  23. ^ British Castles text and illustrations by Alan Sorrell, B T Batsford Ltd, London 1973 ISBN 0-7134-1119-8
  24. ^ St Albans Museums
  25. ^ "BBC - Your Paintings - Abu Simbel, Nubia".
  26. ^ "Your Paintings - Paintings".
  27. ^
  28. ^ Reading Museum: Silchester Archived 19 August 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  29. ^ Alan Sorrell Alan Sorrell
  30. ^ "Your Paintings - Alan Sorrell paintings".
  31. ^ "Tyne & Wear Museums - Art online".
  32. ^ Castle Museum, Norwich
  33. ^ The Illustrated London News, 18 July 1953
  34. ^

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