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Michael Ayrton RBA (1921-1975)


Michael Ayrton, RBA (1921-1975)

Michael Ayrton was a veritable twentieth-century Renaissance man, whose relatively short career encompassed a wide range of creative achievements. He was a painter, illustrator, sculptor and stage designer, and also a novelist, critic and broadcaster. His varied output reveals a fascination with mythological subjects, and especially those concerning flight, mazes and mirrors.

Michael Ayrton was born in London on 20 February 1921, to the writer Gerald Gould and the Labour politician Barbara Ayrton; extremely ambitious, he adopted his mother’s name at the time of his father’s death in order to appear high in the alphabetical lists of mixed exhibitions. Though his formal schooling – at Abinger Preparatory School – was broken by long periods of illness, he spent much time in private study and in travel, including a year in Vienna. He studied art at Heatherley School of Art (1935), St John’s Wood School of Art, and in Paris where he shared a studio with John Minton (1938); both studied under Eugène Berman, with Ayrton occasionally working in the studio of de Chirico.

During the Second World War, Ayrton and Minton were given leave from the Royal Air Force in order to design and supervise the sets and costumes for John Gielgud’s production of
Macbeth (1940-42).

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