Often inspired by his love of music and theatre, Steven Spurrier developed as a wide-ranging painter, illustrator and designer. Steven Spurrier was born in Finsbury Park, London, on 13 July 1878, the son of a designer silversmith based in the City. During a childhood spent in South London and at the City of London School, he developed wide cultural interests, including music and theatre as well as the visual arts. The lessons that he received from a seascape painter, in Margate, Kent, instilled him with a particular fascination for the study and depiction of ships. In 1895, at the age of 17, he followed his father, in becoming an apprentice silversmith, at the same time taking evening classes at the Heatherley School of Fine Art. Two years later, he produced his first published work, a series of Christmas cards on theatrical subjects.
In 1900, Spurrier began work as a freelance illustrator, contributing to many periodicals, including Black and White, The Royal, and The Graphic, as well as producing fashion drawings and costume designs.
As he established himself, he joined the Langham Sketching Club (1906) and produced Black and White: A Manual of Illustration (1909). An admirer of Thomas Rowlandson, he carried his interest in human action and notable events from illustration into painting. He exhibited oils and watercolours at leading London societies, including the Royal Academy of Arts (from 1906), the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours and the Royal Society of Painters in Oils (becoming a member of the latter in 1912). During this period, he lived with his wife in Chiswick and then in North Kensington, becoming the father of two sons whom he would often use as models.
Early in the First World War, Spurrier worked as a Special Constable before joining the Artists Rifles. However, he was exempted from active service because he suffered from a weak heart. So, in 1916, he was called up instead for military intelligence work with the Dock Police in Hull, and subsequently transferred to the Navy as a dazzle officer on the Clyde; he was almost certainly responsible for camouflaging HMS Argus, the world’s first true aircraft carrier, prior to her launch in 1918.
In 1919, Spurrier began a long association with The Illustrated London News as a ‘special artist’, the visual equivalent of a top reporter. He also continued to contribute to numerous periodicals, including The Artist and Radio Times, as well as American and German titles. Turning to book work in 1934, he chose to illustrate an edition of William Wycherley’s Restoration comedy, The Country Wife. This reflected an enhanced interest in theatre and circus, encouraged by a friendship with Laura Knight, and indicated especially by much time spent with the Bertram Mills Circus. He again marked an increase in experience and expertise by writing a manual, Illustration in Wash and Line (1933), and later began to teach (Heatherley’s 1939). Between the wars, he lived at various London addresses, latterly in St John’s Wood, and also in West Wittering, his favourite Sussex coastal retreat.
Ever industrious, Spurrier continued to exhibit with leading societies, and as a result was elected as a member of the Royal Society of British Artists (1933), the National Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, the Pastel Society, and the Royal Academy (ARA 1943, RA 1952). He was made a fellow of the Zoological Society of London and elected Honorary Secretary of the British Society of Poster Designers. During his later career, he had a number of solo shows, including those at the Nicholson Gallery (1940) and the Hazlitt Gallery (1946), and one at the RBA Galleries, held a year before his death in London on 11 March 1961.