Henry Leonard Rosoman, OBE RA RP RWA (1913-2012) ‘As an artist and a teacher, Leonard Rosoman was greatly influential. He showed the dramatic possibilities of white space and areas of intense shadow in drawing. Rosoman accomplished the difficult feat of being both a truly great black and white illustrator working in the commercial sphere, and a distinguished fine artist ... He is a wonderful colourist, consolidating his abilities as a draughtsman with a highly sophisticated use of the medium of paint. Scale, too, is never a problem, whether Rosoman is creating a tiny vignette for Radio Times or a vast mural for the Royal Academy, the space is designed and tensioned as exquisitely as in any Japanese image.’ (Martin Baker, Artists of Radio Times, Oxford: Ashmolean Museum/London: Chris Beetles Ltd, 2002, page 35) Leonard Rosoman was born in West Hampstead, London, on 27 October 1913, the only child of the removals contractor, Henry Edward Rosoman, and his wife, Lilian (née Spencer).
His parents soon became estranged, and he spent much of his childhood living with his maternal uncles and aunt at a house in Priory Road, West Hampstead. He was educated at the infant school in Kingsgate Road, West Hampstead, and at Deacon’s School, in Peterborough (where he joined his mother and an unsympathetic stepfather). He studied under E M O’Rourke Dickey at the King Edward VII School of Art, Armstrong College, Newcastle Upon Tyne (part of Durham University) (1930-34), the Royal Academy Schools (1935), and under Bernard Meninsky at the Central School of Arts and Crafts (1934-37). As a student he was much influenced by Gauguin, Paul Nash and Edward Burra.
Before the Second World War, Rosoman illustrated his first book, J B S Haldane’s My Friend Mr Leakey (1937), and taught life drawing and perspective at the Reimann School, Westminster (1937-39). Then, during the war, he served in the Auxiliary Fire Service in London, and helped form the Fireman Artists. In 1945, he was appointed an Official War Artist to the Admiralty, working with the British Pacific Fleet. His work from this period was exhibited much later, in 1989, in ‘A War Retrospective’ mounted by the Imperial War Museum.
After the war, Rosoman developed as a distinctive painter, illustrator and designer, characterised by an unusual, even ambiguous use of space, and often highly artificial colour. He was invited by his friend, John Minton, to teach illustration at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts (1947-48), and went on to teach mural painting at Edinburgh College of Art (1948-56). While there, he made his first drawings for Radio Times, produced his first significant murals for the Festival of Britain (1951), and designed the Diaghilev exhibition for the Edinburgh Festival (1954). In 1956, he became a tutor in the Painting School of the Royal College of Art, and three years later began to exhibit at the Royal Academy. He was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1960, and a full Royal Academician nine years later.
During the 1960s, Rosoman absorbed the influence of some of his former students, including Peter Blake and Peter Phillips. So he enhanced his non-naturalistic palette by switching from oil to acrylic, and increased his use of framing devices. The results are well displayed in the series of paintings based on John Osborne’s controversial play, A Patriot for Me, exhibited in New York in 1968, and at Roland, Browse and Delbanco, in London, in 1969.
Between 1951 and 1961, Rosoman was the lover of Ginette Morton-Evans, then married to Kenneth Morton- Evans, and they travelled together in France, Italy and Spain. The relationship ended when, having divorced her husband, she impulsively married Robin Darwin, rector of the Royal College of Art. Rosoman went on to have a six-year marriage to the Australian artist and costume designer, Jocelyn Rickards (1963-69).
Among other achievements, his work as a book illustrator included contributions to The Oxford Illustrated Old Testament (1968-69), and a number of commissions from the Folio Society, including Brave New World (1971). Important decorative commissions include that for Lambeth Palace Chapel (1988). He was awarded an OBE in 1981.
In 1972, Rosoman began a relationship with the American pianist, Roxanne Levy (née Wruble), whom he would marry in 1994. He died on 21 February 2012, aged 98.
His work is represented in the Royal Academy of Arts and numerous public collections, including the Imperial War Museums and the National Portrait Gallery.
Further reading Tanya Harrod, Leonard Rosoman, London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2017; Angela Weight, Leonard Rosoman: A War Retrospective, 1939-1945, London: Imperial War Museum, 1989