Alan Sorrell: A Life Reconstructed

Sir John Soane's Museum

25 October 2013 – 25 January 2014

Celebrating Sorrell's work as a mural painter, war artist and commercial illustrator, as well as his eye for archaeological detail.

Despite spending his childhood confined to a bath chair with a suspected heart condition, Alan Sorrell grew up as part of an artistic household.

During his early years he loved to accompany his jeweller and watchmaker father on landscape drawing trips where the pair would sketch the rural English countryside.

By the 1920s, Sorrell had secured a place at the Royal College of Art where he studied alongside many greats of the era, such as Ravilious, Bawden and Mahoney.

Sorrell's diverse career went onto include a scholarship in Rome working on decorative arts, election to the Royal Watercolour Society and a period spent teaching at his former college as a drawing instructor.

With the outbreak of World War II, Sorrell enlisted in the RAF and later the Air Ministry, where he helped paint camouflage onto aerodromes while also producing images of life in the force in his spare time.

Although he worked in a variety of disciplines, Sorrell is perhaps best known for his archaeological illustrations of early historical sites and monuments, particularly his detailed reconstructions of Roman Britain.

He began producing these drawings in 1936 after a chance meeting with the archaeologist, Kathleen Kenyon, on a dig of a Roman site in Leicester.

Kenyon asked him to produce images for an article in the Illustrated London News and the resulting pictures were so successful the artist received further commissions from archaeological writers in Dorset and Wales.

These drawings have ensured Sorrell's inclusion in more public collections than any other 20th century artist; his work is currently held at Tate Gallery, Ashmolean Museum and National Museum of Wales, among others.

Venue information

Opening times

Weds – Sun, 10am – 5pm (last entry 4.30pm)

Open bank holidays

"Art Fund" is the operating name of the National Art Collections Fund, a charity registered in England and Wales (209174) and Scotland (SC038331)