Leonard Rosoman, was a painter, muralist, printmaker, book illustrator, a teacher of distinction and a war artist. Born in London, he spent some of his youth in Newcastle but later attended the Royal Academy schools and the Central School of Art in London. He received his first commission whilst at college.
Before the Second World War, the still unknown Rosoman was at one point designing a toffee wrapper in his efforts to get by. His first big break was in 1937, with a commission to illustrate a children’s book called My Friend Mr Leakey, written by the scientist JBS Haldane. From 1938 he ran the life classes at a private art academy called the Reinmann School, the London branch of a Berlin art college.
In 1939 he returned from an extended stay in Honfleur, north-west France, just in time for the outbreak of the Second World War. Commissioned into the Auxiliary Fire Service, he began painting subjects from his daily life. On one occasion, as a fireman, a wall collapsed, narrowly missing him but killing two colleagues. He was working with his friend, the writer, William Sansom, who later wrote about the incident in ‘Westminster in War’, which happened in Shoe Lane, September 1940. Within days Rosoman of the incident after making his name, he found himself commissioned as a captain in the Royal Marines and on his way to the Far East. His wartime work is now on display at the Imperial War Museum in London.
On his return to Britain in 1945, Rosoman became a close friend of John Minton, a highly talented painter and illustrator who, as Rosoman embarked on his first Radio Times commissions, Minton was receiving widespread applause for his illustrations for Elizabeth David’s book French Country Cooking. Minton committed suicide in 1957, but Rosoman lived on through the huge changes in British art and, without adapting, stayed at the centre of things. After a spell teaching at Camberwell College of Art with Minton, he moved in 1948 to Edinburgh College of Art to teach mural painting. There, with a group of students, he initiated the Diaghilev exhibition which transferred to London for a celebrated run at Forbes House in 1954.
In 1951 Rosoman painted a mural for the Festival of Britain on the South Bank in London and later, a series on incidents from the lives of St Augustine for the restored chapel at Lambeth Palace, which had been bomb-damaged during the war. He was also well into his stride with illustrations for Radio Times to a wide range of dramas.
It seemed fitting that Leonard Rososman was chosen by Guinness to design a poster for them in 1956. It was in 1956 that Rosoman moved to Chelsea School of Art in London, and in the following year to the Royal College of Art, where he was deeply impressed by the talent of one of his students, David Hockney.