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William Sillince RWS RBA SGA FSIA (1906-1974)


William Sillince, RWS RBA SGA FSIA (1906-1974)

Described by Fougasse as ‘technically a most excellently equipped artist, with an enthusiasm for experiment’, William Sillince is best known as a wartime cartoonist whose soft pencil lines perfectly portrayed the limitless reserves of cheerful resilience of the British character.

The son of a Royal Navy Marine Engineer, William Sillince was born in Battersea, south London on 16 November 1906. As a child he was educated at Osborne House School in Romsey, before going on to study at Regent Street Polytechnic School of Art, Central School of Art & Crafts and the Regional College of Art in Hull. In 1928, he embarked upon a career in advertising, joining Haddons Advertisting Agency and working for clients such as Players Cigarettes and Guinness. In 1936, he became a freelance cartoonist, contributing regularly to Punch, The Bystander and under the pseudonym ‘Silenus’ for the Daily Sketch; his association with Punch would last for almost 40 years. The arrival of the Second World War allowed him to produce some of his best work – gentle social observations of British wartime resilience and eccentricity, produced in soft pencil on textured paper.

Between 1949 and 1952, Sillince taught part-time at Brighton College of Art, before lecturing in graphic design at Hull Regional College of Art from 1952 to 1971. He also illustrated a number of books, including
Water, Wine and Song (1943), This Merrie English (1954) and Basic British (1956), and was commissioned to design the Alice in Wonderland room at Burton Constable Hall, East Yorkshire. He died on 10 January 1974.

A keen watercolourist as well as cartoonist, Sillince exhibited at the Royal Academy, New English Art Club, the Royal Society of British Artists (of which he was elected a member in 1949), the Royal Watercolour Society (ARWS 1949, RWS 1958) and the Royal Scottish Academy. He exhibited abroad, in Belgium and France, and was an Honorary Foreign Member of the Philadelphia Watercolour Club.

His work is represented in numerous public collections, including the British Museum and Imperial War Museums.


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