The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Alan Sorrell mural listed at Grade II

Photograph courtesy of Liss Llewellyn Fine Art

C20 are delighted to announce that The Seasons, a stunning, large-scale mural by the artist Alan Sorrell has been listed at Grade II. We supported a listing application by his children Julia and Richard, who were deeply concerned over the covering of the work at the Myton School in Warwick. The Society have been dedicated to locating and protecting murals through our campaign, and we welcome the addition of this fine work to the growing list of designated post-war art. Unfortunately the mural remains covered, though we hope that its new listed status will encourage the Myton School to find a way to display it whilst affording it the protection it deserves.

At 16 metres in length, the mural fills the main entrance to the school building. It is a work in oil paint, applied directly to the plaster wall, and depicts a sweeping verdant landscape where the theme of the four seasons is played out from left to right, starting and finishing with winter. Both fantastic and educational, it shows agriculture and architecture alongside dragons and smoking volcanoes, with a progression of the ages of man across the foreground of piece. C20 trustee Alan Powers, whose contribution to the 2013 monograph on the artist (‘Alan Sorrell, The Life and Works of an English Neo-Romantic Artist’ Edited by Sacha Llewellyn and Richard Sorrell) has been a part of the recent reappraisal of Sorrell’s work, describes the mural as ‘inspired by Breughel, with a combination of different historic periods in one continuous landscape, full of details likely to appeal to children, but not simplified in any childish way.’

Alan Sorrell was a British artist who won the 1928 British Prix de Rome in mural painting, and spent the rest of the decade studying in Rome. Upon his return to the UK, Sorrell executed a major work in Southend for the town library which was then exhibited at the Royal Academy, where he began to attract widespread attention. After commissioning a long panoramic mural for the Festival of Britain in 1951, his commission at Myton School by the architect (then Oken School, by Geoffrey Barnsley for the county council in 1950-3) followed, and was his last major mural work. He was paid 500 guineas for the job, and lived onsite in a caravan during its creation. The depth of the perspective, the richness and detail of the paintwork and the romantic nature of its content make it a work of immense quality, both visually compelling and utterly moving.

This decision by Historic England goes to show that murals can and should be listed independently of their setting where necessary – and so begs the question as to why the magnificent John Piper glass mosaic mural in the foyer of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce was recently turned down for listing, and now faces demolition along with the building it resides in.

Tess Pinto