Alan Sorrell – A New Biography

Alan Sorrell : The Man who created Roman Britain

A new biography by Julia Sorrell & Mark Sorrell

Portrait of Alan Sorrell by Elizabeth Sorrell

Julia Sorrell describes her thoughts on the writing of a new biography about her father Alan Sorrell.

‘Back in 2015 I settled down to write my section of a new biography on my father Alan Sorrell, whilst my brother Mark would write his section, paying particular attention to our father’s contribution to archaeology. He went into detail about my father’s method of approach and his working relationship with leading archaeologists of the day, whilst I concentrated on his life both artistically and emotionally. The book was commissioned by Oxbow books and funded by Marc Fitch Fund and Historic Environment Scotland. Realising I was shortly going to Orkney to create an exhibition of work, there seemed little time to give justice to both projects. Therefore I concentrated on collating all my father’s writings and correspondence being, on the one hand, very careful not to cross into Mark’s territory, yet trying to give a written portrait of this artist who reputedly has more works in British public collections than any other 20th century artist. As Gavin Stamp remarked in ‘Apollo’ in January 2014: ‘. . . no artist has done more visually to educate the (British) public about past civilisations than Alan Sorrell,’ adding that, in the Sir. John Soane exhibition, Alan ‘emerges here as a neo-Romantic artist of great charm and skill, a worthy contemporary of Eric Ravillious and Edward Bawden.’

Hadrian’s Wall.
Never having written a book before, I would lie awake considering how to tackle it. And, as so often happens, one’s brain is lucid for the insomniac at night – for others their Archimedes crowning moment can be in a bath. Of course, if I read all relevant material and copied and pasted quotes in differing font colours for varying headings e.g. emotional, work etc., then my research would be easier. I thought this discovery so original and felt really pleased. Later, however, when seated next to an academic historian at a dinner in Cambridge, and feeling a bit at a loss what to say, I confided in him my brainwave. His reaction was wonderful. He looked at me and roared with laughter and said: ‘That is how many of us academics do their research today.’ ‘Oh’ I limply replied. Mind you, the ice had been broken, and I acknowledged there is no such thing as originality! For those wishing to know more about the contents broached in the biography, I have included a link to my blog and if I have whetted your appetites still further I am delighted to say that the book will be on sale in the Mall Galleries shop and if you do buy it, I hope above all you will relish the diversity and quality of this fascinating man’s work, of which there are many examples illustrated. Of course I am biased, but nevertheless I believe he deserves a place in the art history books. For me, the writing of it was my small way of saying ‘thank you’ to my father. If you wish to ask me in person, or email me at any questions, I should be delighted to answer them.


Myton School Mural

The Planting of the Trees