David Gentleman

David Gentleman
Born (1930-03-11) 11 March 1930
London, England, United Kingdom
Nationality British
Education Royal College of Art
Occupation Artist and Designer
Known for Illustrations

David Gentleman (born 11 March 1930) is an English artist. He studied illustration at the Royal College of Art under Edward Bawden and John Nash. He has worked in watercolour, lithography and wood engraving at scales ranging from the platform-length murals for Charing Cross underground station in London to postage stamps and logos.

His themes include paintings of landscape and environmental posters to drawings of street life and protest placards. He has written and illustrated many books, mostly about countries and cities.


Gentleman was born in London, and grew up in Hertford, the son of artists who had met at the Glasgow School of Art. He attended Hertford Grammar School and the St Albans School of Art, did national service as an education sergeant in the Royal Army Education Corps in charge of an art room in Cornwall, and then went to the Royal College of Art. He stayed there as a junior tutor for two years before becoming a freelance artist. He resolved from the start never to teach, commute, or work with anyone else.

He has lived and worked in the same street in Camden Town since 1956, and also in Suffolk, travelling only for work. He has four children: a daughter by his first wife Rosalind Dease, a fellow-student at the RCA, and two daughters and a son by his second wife Susan Evans, the daughter of the writer George Ewart Evans. His daughter Amelia is married to the Conservative politician Jo Johnson.

His work is represented in Tate Britain,[1] the British Museum,[2] the Victoria and Albert Museum[3] and the Fitzwilliam Museum.[4]


Watercolours and drawings

Gentleman paints and draws landscapes, buildings and people, and uses drawing in his design work. Many of his watercolours have been made in London and Suffolk and around Britain, on extended travels in France, Italy and India, and during briefer spells in South Carolina, East Africa, the Pacific and Brazil. He has held many exhibitions of these works. Commissioned series of watercolours have included landscapes for Shell, several Oxford Almanacks for the Oxford University Press, and interiors of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for the FCO. His drawings and watercolours have been reproduced on textiles and wallpapers, dinner plates for Wedgwood and on a Covent Garden mug for David Mellor. His architectural drawings have appeared in House & Garden, The Sunday Times, New York Magazine, and on the RIBA’s series of Everyday Architecture wallcharts. His most recently published watercolours were made as illustrations for In the Country, 2014. In 2010, Gentleman was commissioned by Dulwich Picture Gallery to create a design for its Christmas Card.

Wood engravings and a mural on the Underground

Gentleman’s early wood engravings were for Penguin paperbacks, greetings cards, wine lists, press ads, and books – Swiss Family Robinson and John Clare's The Shepherd's Calendar. He engraved a series of 32 covers for the New Penguin Shakespeare series. His wood engravings appear on many of his stamps, and in a 100-metre-long mural, his most widely seen public work. In 1978, London Transport commissioned the platform-length Eleanor Cross murals on the underground at Charing Cross station. It shows, as in a strip cartoon, how the medieval workforce built the original cross, from quarrying the stone to setting in place the topmost pinnacle. Its wood-engraved images of stonemasons and sculptors, enlarged twenty times to life-size, mirror today’s passengers going about their day's work.


Between 1982 and 1997, Gentleman wrote and illustrated six travel books: David Gentleman’s Britain, London, Coastline, Paris, India and Italy, and more recently London You’re Beautiful, 2012 and In the Country, 2014. He also wrote and illustrated four books about a small child on holiday: Fenella in Ireland, Greece, Spain and the South of France.


Gentleman has illustrated many books by other people, including drawings for the cookbook Plats du Jour. In 2009 he painted watercolours to illustrate Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay by George Ewart Evans. For the Limited Editions Club of New York he illustrated The Swiss Family Robinson, Keats's Poems, The Jungle Book, and The Ballad of Robin Hood, and several books for children, including Russell Hoban’s The Dancing Tigers. He has designed many paperback covers and jackets: for Penguin Books, E. M. Forster’s novels and the New Penguin Shakespeare wood engravings; for Faber, many watercolours for Siegfried Sassoon and Lawrence Durrell novels; and for Duckworth, wood engraved or typographical designs for scientific and classical works.

Stamps, coins and logos

Between 1962 and 2000 Gentleman designed 103 stamps for the Post Office, making him the most prolific stamp designer in Britain at that time.[5] These include sets for Shakespeare, Churchill, Darwin, British Ships, Concorde, the Battle of Britain, the Battle of Hastings, the BBC, Good King Wenceslas, The Twelve Days of Christmas, Social Reformers, Ely Cathedral, Abbotsbury Swannery and the Millennium.

His stamp designs included an album of experimental designs commissioned by Tony Benn, then Postmaster General to show how stamps could dispense with the large photograph of the Queen then mandatory, or alternatively replace it with a smaller profile silhouette derived initially from Mary Gillick’s coinage head. Over forty years later, the wider range of subjects, the profile and the simpler designs that it made possible remain a feature of all British special stamps.[6]

He won the Phillips Gold Medal for postage stamp design in both 1969 and 1979.[7]

The Royal Mint have issued two of Gentleman's coin designs. The first (issued jointly with the Monnaie de Paris in 2004) celebrated the centenary of the Entente Cordiale, and the second in 2007 commemorated the bicentenary of the Act for the abolition of the slave trade. Other miniature design commissions have included symbols or logos for the Bodleian Library, British Steel and a redesign of the National Trust’s familiar symbol of a spray of oak leaves.


Gentleman has designed posters for public institutions including London Transport (Visitors’ London and Victorian London), the Imperial War Museum, and the Public Record Office. A series in the seventies for the National Trust, used unconventional designs, photographs and photo-montages; some won design awards. Later, poster-like designs replaced words in his book A Special Relationship (Faber, 1979) on the US/UK alliance.[8] Gentleman regretted that these images were not displayed as actual posters. On the eve of the Iraq war in 2003, Gentleman offered the Stop the War Coalition a poster saying simply 'No', which was carried on the protest march. Other march placards followed, including 'No more lies' and 'Bliar'. His largest design was an installation in 2007 of 100,000 drops of blood, one for each person already killed in that war. The bloodstains were printed on 1,000 sheets of card pegged out in a vast square covering the grass in Parliament Square.

Lithographs and screenprints

Gentleman's first lithographs were posters for a Royal College of Art theatre group production of Orphee and a student exhibition, and one of his first commissions was for a large Lyons lithograph. Between 1970 and 2008 he made suites of lithographs of buildings (Covent Garden, South Carolina, Bath) and landscapes (of Gordale Scar, of the Seven Sisters, and of Suffolk subjects). These lithographs were printed in colour and were essentially representational. In 1970 he made six more poster-like screenprints, Fortifications, published in New York. A number of these are in the collections of Tate Britain.


Surveys of Gentleman's work

Books by Gentleman

Books for children by Gentleman

Books illustrated by Gentleman


Solo exhibitions of watercolours by Gentleman

Retrospective exhibitions


  1. David Gentleman in the gallery catalogue. Accessed 14 May 2010.
  2. For example this print.
  3. See for example "Interior design in the archives", Victoria and Albert Museum. Accessed 14 May 2010.
  4. As may be verified via the museum's search facility
  5. Gentleman on Stamps - Unadopted Designs and Issues
  6. Gentleman on Stamps - A Revolution in British Stamp Design
  7. "News of the World: Top stamp award for David Gentleman" in Gibbons Stamp Monthly, Vol. 53, No. 4, September 1979, p. 59.
  8. "No longer a Gentleman", Evening Standard, 1979.
  9. David Gentleman: London, You're Beautiful - Fine Art Society, 2012

External links

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