Obituary: Charles Longbotham

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The Independent Culture
THE THREE strands of Charles Longbotham's professional life as artist, sailor and architectural model-maker were evident from his childhood when he began to make and paint paper boats on the nursery table.

Born in 1917, the third son of a mining engineer, at Carlton in Nottinghamshire, Longbotham moved to Southsea at the age of eight and there he saw the ships which so captured his imagination. More given to day-dreaming than to study - at Sunday service in Portsmouth Cathedral he would sit staring at the organ pipes and design ships in his head - he left Portsmouth Grammar School at 15 to train as a Merchant Navy officer on HMS Conway at Rock Ferry on the River Mersey. Despite the toughness of the regime, Longbotham looked back on these two years with affection. A model he made at this time was praised by John Masefield and is mentioned in his 1933 book The "Conway".

After three years with the New Zealand Shipping Company and an abortive attempt to go into advertising, Longbotham was called up in 1940 to the RNR. He saw service as a navigating officer for anti-submarine trawlers, and he also escorted East Coast convoys to Portsmouth to show Hitler that the Channel would stay open. "Out of six navigators I was the last one to survive," he later wrote. "All the others were either killed or had nervous breakdowns." He was never without a sketchbook. Minutes after an E-boat and air attack on the convoy off Sheringham he was making sketches, which some years later were worked up into a watercolour now in the Imperial War Museum.

Finally, sick and exhausted by two years at sea, Longbotham was transferred to shore duties at Methil on the Firth of Forth. Ill-health and pain were to dog him for the rest of his life.

At the end of the war he worked briefly for a firm of model-makers, Bassett- Lowke, in Northampton before returning to London, where he was employed for a period by the Council of Industrial Design. From 1946 until 1969 he worked as a professional model-maker and dioramist, despite undergoing two major spinal operations.

At his studio in Ealing he made some 700 models. Projects included a model of Giles Gilbert Scott's scheme for rebuilding Coventry Cathedral, as well as work for the Festival of Britain, the Brussels World Fair '57, Addenbrooke's Hospital, the Commonwealth Institute and a palace for the Shah of Persia. In 1966 he received a telephone call inviting him to assist with the QE2. He spent a year on the work, travelling back and forth between London and Glasgow. The funnels proved particularly trying but after many wind-tunnel tests Longbotham came up with what was then a revolutionary design. Later he made models of the ship for Cunard's London and New York showrooms.

He continued to paint, sometimes at midnight when he finished model- making, but it was not until he retired, to Norfolk, that he realised his desire to become a professional artist. Although his only training was a brief time at Heatherley's Art School, in London, such was his natural skill that he exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy and the Royal Society of Marine Artists. He was elected to the Art Workers' Guild in 1963. In 1965 he held a one-man show at the Federation of British Artists' Gallery in Pall Mall and in 1969 he was elected an associate of the Royal Watercolour Society, becoming a full member in 1974.

Maurice Sheppard, a past president of the RWS, says: "At the RWS his views mattered at difficult moments. In the psychology of his picture making, each time you see him view his subject from a certain distance so as to observe the whole and not just the parts. So in his character - a no-nonsense approach that was far-seeing, refreshing and frank."

Longbotham's watercolours are, characteristically, atmospheric evocations of the sky and sea, or landscapes in which man is very incidental. On board ship his favourite watch was at 4am, when he could see the sun rise, which he preferred to sunset, thinking the air was clearer. "It is the sky that sets me going," he once said.

His daughter, by his first wife, is the artist Claire Dalby.

Simon Fenwick

Charles Longbotham, artist, sailor, dioramist and architectural model- maker: born Carlton, Nottinghamshire 6 July 1917; married 1940 Eleanor Nairn-Allison (died 1972; one daughter), 1979 Jeanie Campbell-Taylor (nee Goodacre; two stepsons); died Cambridge 17 February 1999.