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
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Recruitment Genius: HR Advisor

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our Client has been the leader ...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea