In Focus: The war artist who taught Hockney, and whose reputation is only going to grow

Huon Mallalieu takes a look at Leonard Rosoman, whose quirky style and unusual career path have left him impossible to pigeon hole, and who is the subject of a show at Browse & Darby.

I am fairly sure that Leonard Rosoman RA (1913–2012) was the last surviving Second World War Official Artist. As well as painting from his own experience as a fire-fighter during the Blitz, he was on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific and at Hong Kong after liberation.

Later, he painted fine murals for the Festival of Britain and in the Royal Academy restaurant and Lambeth Palace chapel. He was a good portraitist and he taught at Chelsea and the Royal College of Art, where David Hockney was among his pupils.

On hearing that you might be tempted to glance at the top of this page and think that Hockney’s swimming pool paintings were inspired by Rosoman, whose 18in by 26in acrylic on paper Swimming Pool, Key West is pictured here. That’s not the case, unfortunately: this image was painted in 1996, so one cannot say that it inspired Hockney’s Californian pools, one of which recently set a record at auction for a painting by a living artist.

Rosoman had a quirky style of his own and can’t be lumped in with any school or faction; as the art historian Tanya Harrod has written, ‘he had a uniquely strange vision that from the late 1950s onwards that conflated pop art and Victorian problem pictures’.

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I think that, deservedly, his reputation will only grow. Browse & Darby of Cork Street, W1  represent his estate and until May 31 will show paintings and works on paper from what was his private collection, including some of the celebrated works based on John Osborne’s censor-defying play A Patriot for Me.

As the dealer says, the exhibition ‘includes portraits of the artist and his circle of friends and associates, providing an introduction not just to his oeuvre but also to his life and times’.

Leonard Rosoman’s work is on show at Browse & Darby until May 31 — see for more details.