1913 (New York, New York)
2005 (Exeter, England)
New York / United Kingdom
Self portrait - Artist self-portrait (etching)
Copyright by Owner
Often Known For
book illustration, cartoon, etching
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|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|The following is submitted by John Adamson, son of the artist, March 2005:|
The following was submitted March 2005 by Peter Adamson, son of the artist.
PRESS RELEASE: March 9, 2005
George Adamson, the illustrator and humorist, dies at 92
George Worsley Adamson, the illustrator and humorist, died peacefully on March 5th, bringing to an end a long and prolific career as an artist observing the frolics, follies and foibles of mankind through humorous drawings and sympathetic illustration work.
Born in 1913 in the Bronx, New York City, he was the son of a Glaswegian engineer who was working for the IRT (Interboro-Rapid Transit Co.). After the death of his mother in 1921, Adamson emigrated to England on the "SS Caronia" as an eight-year-old.
His first aspiration was to be an architect; but after a rigorous training in Wigan and in the Liverpool College of Art he taught etching and graphic design at the College of Art in Exeter just after WW2 before embarking in 1954 on a career as freelance artist in Exeter, where he spent the rest of his life.
Adamson the book illustrator
He illustrated or did the covers or wrappers for more than 100 books and is probably best known for illustrating the first children's books by Ted Hughes. When Hughes submitted his manuscript for Meet My Folks! bearing a Massachusetts address to Faber & Faber, the poet had scarcely established his reputation. On receiving a copy of the manuscript Adamson spotted the American address and assumed the writer to be from the United States. So he gave his illustrations a New England flavour that lent a unifying extension to the eccentric poems about Hughes' make-believe family.
"Very fine and witty", wrote Sylvia Plath of the illustrations in one of her letters home.
In 1981, Adamson was awarded the Punch book illustration prize in conjunction with the Folio Society and won the commission to illustrate the Folio Society's Short Stories of P.G. Wodehouse.
Between 1980 and 1984 five Dear Bill books written by Richard Ingrams and John Wells were published with illustrations by Adamson. Phenomenally successful, between them they sold several million copies.
In the mid sixties Adamson was asked to step into the shoes of Heath Robinson and illustrate a new batch of Norman Hunter's Professor Branestawm books. The timelessness of these drawings is reflected in the reuse of some of them in the new Red Fox Classics edition of The Peculiar Triumph of Professor Branestawm published in 2003.
Adamson the magazine illustrator
He undertook many commissions for "The Listener", and for "Punch"; he illustrated many of Auberon Waugh's diary columns in "Private Eye". He also completed some 200 commissions to illustrate case studies for the "Nursing Times". These drawings alone form a remarkable corpus of highly perceptive and tender drawings, which show not only sympathy for the patients and nurses he illustrated but also subtle understanding of mental states, often depicted in a surreal and powerful idiom.
In both magazine and book illustration, his aim was always to extend the material in some new way, and not be content with merely illustrating the written scene.
Adamson the humorist
His first cartoon appeared in "Punch" in September 1939, featuring gas masks, and his last in the Spectator in 1994, depicting a renegade rat who would not follow the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Hundreds of his cartoons adorned the pages of "Punch", "Private Eye", "The Daily Telegraph", among others, over many years.
Adamson the draughtsman
All Adamson's work, whether cartoon or illustration, displays his skills as a draughtsman and his training as an etcher and engraver and graphic designer. His approach to illustration-and even to ordinary cartoons-always stressed the importance of design and the layout of material on the printed page. Partly from practical necessity, he developed techniques to assist both speed of production and more accurate printing; for instance, he made extensive use of transparent film (acetate) to separate line drawing from a painted background based only on three specified process colours.
He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers in 1987 for his achievement as an etcher and engraver.
Adamson the colourist
His colour work was mostly but not exclusively in gouache. From the full-colour jackets for popular novels such as Vera Caspary's Husband or T.H.White's Sword in the Stone to the almost surrealistic oil paintings in his book "A Finding Alphabet", his range was vast and included many covers for Punch. He indulged in highly successful pastiches of the work of well-known painters on various occasions: for instance there is his series of paintings by old masters visualized five minutes before or after the moment depicted ("Five Minutes' Difference", Punch, Almanack for 1962, 06/11/1961, pp. 12-14).
Adamson the War Artist
Adamson joined the Royal Air Force in 1940. After training as a navigator in the United States (Dallas, Texas) and Canada (Ontario and Dorval, Québec) he was posted to Coastal Command 210 Squadron eventually serving as flight-lieutenant, navigating Catalina flying boats on the Western Approaches from Gibraltar to Murmansk. He recorded his return trip crossing the Atlantic as a navigator in two full-page pen and wash drawings published in the "Illustrated London News" (December 26, 1942, pp. 716-717). He undertook further training on Liberators in Nassau, the Bahamas. He left the RAF in January 1946.
During a short rest from operational flying he was appointed an official War Artist to Coastal Command by the War Artists' Advisory Committee (WAAC), under the chairmanship of Sir Kenneth Clark. Seven drawings were bought by WAAC, of which three are in the Imperial War Museum collection, and three in the RAF Museum at Hendon.
Adamson the Man
Forever a dapper gentleman, he sported a hand-tied bow tie. A man of boundless energy, he worked-and walked-until his mid eighties. His taste buds worked well until the very end and he appreciated good food, and while his wife Peg was alive he thoroughly enjoyed her cooking.
Adamson fighting for artists' rights
Throughout his career as an illustrator and humorist, Adamson fought for the rights of the artist. Some book and magazine publishers for many years took it for granted that they had ownership of any artwork they commissioned or published for the first time, and indeed of all subsequent reproduction rights for that work.
From the earliest days Adamson was nevertheless able to get his original artwork back in most instances. He recalled, though, an occasion when an ink drawing by another artist was used as an envelope stiffener for the return of his own work.
More and more often Adamson was able to negotiate for the right of first reproduction. That meant "first British serial rights" for periodicals. For books it meant a refresher fee normally due on re-use (such as at the time of a book's reprinting). He frequently exercised the minds of the legal experts at the Society of Authors in his endeavours to ensure fair dealing.
The vVrtual Adamson
The complete works of Adamson are being catalogued and those items not in public or private collections are being archived.
Towards the end Adamson could no longer effectively wield a pen: failing eyesight thwarted his efforts to put on paper the images he endlessly invented. All that could be seen of the humour and surrealism was the twinkle in his eye.
George Adamson died peacefully at Barton Place Nursing Home, Exeter, where he had been carefully and affectionately looked after for some eighteen months. He smiled and charmed the nurses to the last. His wife Peg predeceased him (1997), and he is survived by their two sons, Peter and John.
Special Awards and Exhibitions:
1968 Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter, one-man show
1983 Wins "Punch" competition to illustrate an anthology of P.G. Wodehouse short stories for the Folio Society.
Fleming Wyfold Art Foundation, London
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, England (long-term loan from Royal Societyof Painter-Printmakers)
British Museum, London
New York Public Library, New York, NY
Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter, England
House of Humor, Gabrovo, Bulgaria
Imperial War Museum, London
RAF Museum, Hendon, England
Ulster Museum, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Wigan Heritage Service, Wigan, England
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