George Adamson

Artist, illustrator and cartoonist
Click to follow
The Independent Online

George Adamson was not only a distinguished artist who exhibited at the Royal Academy and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers, but also a writer, designer of greetings cards, illustrator of children's books and a successful cartoonist who contributed to Punch for nearly half a century.

George Worsley Adamson, cartoonist, artist and illustrator: born New York 7 February 1913; RE 1987; married 1944 Peggy Diamond (two sons); died Exeter 5 March 2005.

George Adamson was not only a distinguished artist who exhibited at the Royal Academy and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers, but also a writer, designer of greetings cards, illustrator of children's books and a successful cartoonist who contributed to Punch for nearly half a century.

In 1939 his first drawing was published in Punch under the editorship of the cartoonist Kenneth Bird ("Fougasse"), beginning an association with the magazine that lasted until 1988 and included the designing of 34 covers as well as hundreds of illustrations and cartoons.

George Worsley Adamson was born in the Bronx, New York, in 1913, the second child of George William Adamson, a Glaswegian railway engineer, and Lily Howard. His parents had moved to the United States from Bombay in 1910 and, after the death of his mother in 1921, George and his two sisters moved to Wigan, Lancashire, to live with their maternal aunts. There, George attended Wigan Mining & Technical College and studied art at Wigan Art School under L.T. Howells. After graduation, he qualified as an art teacher in 1935 and then studied aquatint and drypoint part-time at Liverpool City Art School under Geoffrey Wedgwood. He had his first work accepted by the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, in 1933 and by the Royal Academy in 1937.

During the Second World War, Adamson served in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, training as a navigator in the US and Canada before being posted to 210 Coastal Command in 1942, serving on Catalina flying-boats on anti-submarine patrols from the Bay of Biscay to the Barents Sea. He was also made an Official War Artist and a number of his works from this period are now held in the collections of the Imperial War Museum and the RAF Museum.

Demobbed in January 1946, Adamson moved to Devon, where he worked at first as a lecturer in engraving and illustration at Exeter School of Art. He then joined a design group in London before turning freelance, drawing for advertising (clients including Rolls-Royce and Shell), designing greetings cards, stationery and posters, and producing regular illustrations for Country Fair, Young Elizabethan, Motoring, Tatler, The Listener, The Countryman, New Scientist, Time & Tide, The Spectator, The Independent, The Oldie, The Observer, The Daily Sketch, Harper's & Queen, Radio Times and others. He contributed more than 200 drawings to Nursing Times and a similar number of cartoons to The Daily Telegraph's "Peterborough" column. In addition he drew regularly for Private Eye, illustrating Auberon Waugh's diary column as well as the first five volumes of the magazine's "Dear Bill" books written by Richard Ingrams and John Wells (1980-84).

The author of a number of books - including A Finding Alphabet (1965), Widdecombe Fair (1966), Finding 1 to 10 (1968) and Rome Done Lightly (1969) - Adamson was also a prolific and highly accomplished illustrator working on more than 80 titles. Notable amongst these were The Faber Book of Nursery Verse (1958), Richard Carpenter's Catweazle (1970), Norman Hunter's "Professor Branestawm" books (1966-77) and children's fantasy stories by Alan Garner.

Adamson's illustrations to Ted Hughes's first children's book, Meet My Folks! (1961) were described by Sylvia Plath as "very fine and witty", and he later illustrated Hughes's How the Whale Became (1963) and The Iron Man (1968). After winning the P.G. Wodehouse Centenary Illustration Award, Adamson produced drawings for the Folio Society's edition of Wodehouse's Short Stories (1983).

Influenced by classical artists such as Velázquez, Rembrandt, Goya and Hokusai, Adamson worked on paper, gesso surfaces and scraperboard, and used pen and ink, wash, charcoal, chalk, gouache, oils and other media. His training as an etcher, engraver and graphic designer also had an effect on his illustration and cartoon work and, to assist the speed of production and more accurate printing, he made extensive use of transparent acetate film to separate line drawings from painted backgrounds.

Always dapper, with a bow tie or cravat, George Adamson was a gentle, softly spoken man of great charm, who made friends easily. A devout Roman Catholic, he was possessed of seemingly boundless energy and had a lifelong enjoyment of walking and swimming.

Mark Bryant

Comments