Sir John Soane’s Museum – Alan Sorrell; A Life Reconstructed (25 October 2013 – 25 January 2014)


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”.

Alan Sorrell: A Life Reconstructed is the first show by a 20th century artist exhibited at the Sir John Soane’s Museum.

A beautiful publication entitled Alan Sorrell: The Life and Works of an English Neo-Romantic Artist, charting Alan Sorrell’s entire oeuvre, with carefully selected full-colour reproductions, will be published to coincide with the Sir John Soane’s Museum retrospective, and will be available from the Museum’s store.


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