Obituary: Christopher Ironside

Christopher Ironside, artist and designer, born 11 July 1913, FSIA 1970, OBE 1971, FRBS 1977, married 1939 Janey Acheson (one daughter; marriage dissolved 1961), 1961 Jean Marsden (one son, two daughters), died Winchester 13 July 1992.

TALL, dark and handsome, and endowed with a natural elegance which inspired his many talents, Christopher Ironside was one of those artists who never receive the full recognition which they deserve. A brilliant draughtsman in a period when draughtsmanship is not appreciated, he brought to his work, whether it was painting or designing or modelling, a polished certainty which reflected the charm of his own character.

We first met as young men just before the last war when we both joined the Home Office camouflage unit which was being formed to tackle the job of making industry less of a bombing target if a war were to come. This was uncharted territory, but Ironside developed a special talent for analysing the shadows cast by the 'saw- tooth' structure of factory roofs and turning them into rows of innocent-looking suburban dwellings. In this new wartime art of illusion, he was able to deploy his inventiveness to great effect, and undoubtedly became one of its best practitioners.

Directly after the war, he worked for a time in the Ministry of Town and Country Planning and then, as the education officer for the then Council of Industrial Design between 1946 and 1948, he helped to plan the post-war policy for the teaching of design in art schools. However, he was soon able to return to his career as a practising artist and inevitably as an art teacher, for the two professions are nowadays inextricably bound together.

At the outbreak of war he had married Janey Acheson - later noted as a fashion designer and professor of fashion design at the Royal College of Art, where he himself taught drawing in the sculpture school for a while. Their daughter Virginia is the well- known journalist, causing her father great pride, which he hid with difficulty.

But Christopher Ironside made his main mark as a teacher - which was considerable - at Maidstone School of Art, where he used Quentin Crisp, before he became well-known, as a model. He delighted hugely in that flamboyant personality, with whom he used to travel down to Maidstone by train, greatly enjoying the sensation they caused, and reporting with relish the outrageous witticisms that poured out of his companion.

All the while he continued with his own work, developing as a painter and sculptor, though circumstances decreed that his great success, which established his reputation, was the design of the new decimal coinage in 1971; a commission which caused him much heart- break and anguish, with endless alterations, amendments and alternatives demanded by the authorities at the Royal Mint. These he survived, and he was justly proud of his achievement. It led to a series of commissions for new national coinages from Tanzania, Brunei, Qatar, Dubai and Singapore, causing him to lament, 'No sooner have I sent off a series of drawings for approval than either the head of state is assassinated or there's a coup d'etat and I've got to start all over again.'

But his commissions were in fact very varied, ranging from oil-paintings and water-colours to the memorial for the Earl and Countess Mountbatten of Burma in Westminster Abbey. He also collaborated with his older brother Robbie, a mysteriously gifted artist, to whom he was devoted and whose early death came as a terrible blow, in a series of exhibition and stage designs including those for Frederick Ashton's production of the ballet Sylvia for the Sadler's Wells Ballet at Covent Garden in 1952.

His marriage to Janey was eventually dissolved and in 1961 he married Jean Marsden. It was a marriage which proved a turning-point in his self-fulfilment, and enabled him to realise himself both as a husband and a parent. With their three children, Kate, Sukie and Christian, they formed a united and loving family, the ideal background for the development of his rare talents.

We met for the last time a few weeks ago, at a camouflage reunion dinner. In spite of the physical disabilities he had endured with great gallantry for some time past he appeared to be his usual debonair self, amused by the nostalgia and amusing with his gift as a raconteur.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Recruitment Genius: HR Consultant

£25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An HR Consultant is required to join thi...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable