The Seasons mural at Myton School
Heritage Category: Listed Building
List Entry Number: 1433254
Date first listed: 12-Apr-2016
Statutory Address: Lower School Buildings, Myton School, Myton Road, Warwick, CV34 6PJ
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Statutory Address: Lower School Buildings, Myton School, Myton Road, Warwick, CV34 6PJ
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Warwick (District Authority)
National Grid Reference: SP2978264653
A mural depicting The Seasons, by Alan Sorrell, RWS (1904-1974), at the former Oken School (now Myton School). The school buildings are otherwise not included.
Reasons for Designation
The Seasons mural at Myton School, painted in 1953 by Alan Sorrell, is listed at Grade II, for the following principal reasons:
* Interest of the artist: Alan Sorrell was a significant neo-Romantic artist who is known equally for his mural painting and his development of the art of archaeological reconstruction drawing and illustration; * Aesthetic interest: The Seasons is a fine piece of large-scale mid-century mural work, with an excellent composition which makes use of the large expanse of wall and positively embraces the limitations placed on it by the inclusion of two doorways; the piece clearly reflects the aesthetic of the Rome Scholars of Mural and Decorative Painting, of whom Sorrell was one, in its pastoral subjects and dreamlike, melancholic tone; * Historic interest: the last, largest and most impressive large-scale mural by Alan Sorrell, who undertook a number of public art commissions; * Enrichment of the architectural context: the mural was intended to be instructive as well as entertaining to the pupils of the Oken School, who passed it each time they entered the building or passed through the crush hall; it formed the principal embellishment of the newly-constructed school building.
Oken School, the first new secondary modern school to be built in Warwickshire (now incorporated within the enlarged Myton School) was built in 1953, designed by Geoffrey Barnsley, then Warwickshire County Council Architect. Barnsley commissioned artist Alan Sorrell to complete a mural on the external wall of the main hall, which would be visible within the crush hall just inside the main entrance to the school.
Alan Sorrell (1904-1974) studied at Southend School of Art and then at the Royal College of Art, where he became a Senior Assistant Instructor of Drawing either side of the Second World War, from 1931-39 and again 1946-8. During the war, Sorrell served in the RAF as a model maker and camouflage officer as well as making work which was commissioned and purchased by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee. Many of his wartime paintings and drawings are now in the Tate and Imperial War Museum collections. In 1928 he won the British Prix de Rome for mural painting, and remained at the British School until 1930. During his time in Rome Sorrell developed an interest in history and archaeology; this was the foundation for his extensive, and well-known, work to create archaeologically accurate but naturalistically and atmospherically rendered reconstruction drawings for publications and as interpretation for the Ministry of Works (later English Heritage). The principal focus of Sorrell’s Rome Scholarship was mural painting, and after his return home, his first major mural was painted in the 1930s, a commission to create works to fill four niches in Southend library. The first panel was exhibited at the Royal Academy, where it drew some attention. Later murals included an extensive panorama for the Festival of Britain’s travelling exhibition on HMS Campania (1951), and decorative painting over the chancel arch of the Church of St Peter in Bexhill. He made other murals after the 1953 mural at Oken School, but The Seasons is the last of his large-scale works.
Alan Sorrell lived in a caravan on the Oken School site for a ten-week period from early July 1953 while creating the Seasons mural. When he first arrived at the school, he found the plaster on the wall he was to paint unsatisfactory as a surface, and it was stripped and replastered to a much higher quality and composition according to his specific instructions before he began. He produced full-sized cartoons for the various sections and individual figures, and sketched their outlines onto the newly-prepared plaster. Several of the figures were portraits; the female figure picking apples at the centre of the composition is modelled on Alan Sorrell’s wife. The little girl next to the shepherd was modelled by Chloe Handford, daughter of the headmaster, and the figure holding the scythe was based on Mr Bicknell, a carpenter responsible for much of the woodwork in the school. The artist worked long hours to complete the mural in ten weeks, and brought his dog into the school to keep him company in the evenings; a portrait of the dog was included at the feet of the elderly man in the Autumn section.
Oken School has been expanded since the time of the completion of the mural, and is now known as Myton School. In 2015, a false wall was constructed several inches outside the mural, obscuring it from view, with the intention of protecting it from potential damage. The wall has been provided with ventilation grilles at intervals, top and bottom, along its length.
A mural depicting The Seasons, by Alan Sorrell, RWS (1904-1974), at the former Oken School (now Myton School), which is not included in the listing.
MATERIALS Oil paint directly onto prepared plaster.
DESCRIPTION The mural is 52 feet (approximately 16m) long, and is entitled The Seasons. It depicts, from left to right, activities associated with the seasons, starting and ending with Winter, and at the same time includes four distinct phases of the day from sunrise to sunset, and the ages of man from youth to old age. The mural covers the entire wall, and accommodates two sets of double doors to the hall beyond. The subjects were intended to be instructive to the pupils of the school in farming practices, landscape and architecture, but also to appeal to their imaginations, with the inclusion, for instance, of a large dragon on a mountain top.
The mural, which is highly detailed, is in Sorrell’s typically slightly muted polychrome palette, with swathes of naturalistic foliage and landscape forming the arena for the activities depicted. The crowded yet expansive composition, with numerous figures inhabiting the fore and middle ground, shows the influence of Renaissance painters Breughel and Benozzo Gozzoli, whose work Sorrell had studied extensively. The composition is continuous; the light changes from left to right, the thin light of dawn to the left giving way to brighter daytime conditions, and ending on the right at sunset. Activities embodying the changing seasons are shown by the life-sized figures in the foreground, with other activities taking place behind. To the left, a rocky bay is shown with strong winds and a small boat, whilst a couple with a baby, the woman with a shawl over her head and the infant, walk barefoot up the shore. The cliffs behind them rise up over the door opening, where in the middle ground, a lighthouse perches on the shore, and figures move among a group of cottages with lit windows and smoke coming from their chimneys. This section leads into the scenes depicting Spring. In the foreground, a cloaked shepherd carrying a crook and a small lamb ushers his charges out from a hurdle pen, towards a small girl dancing and playing barefoot, with spring flowers growing at her feet. Behind, in the middle ground, figures outside a C19 brick building gesture into the background, one with a telescope trained on a large dragon atop a vertiginous cliff above a smoking volcano. A stand of trees forms a naturalistic division between the Spring and Summer sections. Summer has a male figure with a scythe with a seated companion, resting from harvesting grain, in a field which extends back through the scene with smaller mid-ground figures gathering the cuts stalks into stooks. Beyond the field a walled town with massive Norman gatehouse being approached by mounted soldiers with standards, includes medieval gabled buildings and a church with a tall spire. In the background, a calm bay with a sailing ship and hills rising beyond. To the right of the scything male figure, a woman with a basket on her arm reaches up, picking apples from a tree in full, green leaf, whilst a boy picks blackberries from a bush and a small girl pulls at her skirt. Beyond this, the scene turns autumnal: in the foreground, an elderly man seated in a wattle shelter with a blanket over his knees and a sleeping dog at his feet warms his hands at a small, smoking fire; behind him, women gather faggots of firewood, under trees whose leaves are turning yellow and brown. In the background, huddled figures cross a narrow bridge over a rushing stream, above which a tree has fallen in high winds. Autumn mist lies in the valley behind. The background action continues on a hilltop which rises over the second doorway; here Autumn has given way to Winter, and bare trees are being felled in a row, with snow on the ground. The hills curve down to the final section of the mural, to the right of the doorway. In the foreground, a woman stands at an open gate in a picket fence, facing away from the viewer, her head covered by a fringed shawl. She watches a male figure with a stick in the middle ground, walking away on a snowy path edged by bare trees, towards grey, snow-covered mountains.
In 2015, a false wall was constructed several inches outside the mural, obscuring it from view, with the intention of protecting it from potential damage. The wall has been provided with ventilation grilles at intervals, top and bottom, along its length. The false wall and the entire school building are not included in the listing.
Books and journals
Llewellyn, S (Ed), Sorrell, R (Ed), Alan Sorrell - The Life and Works of an English Neo-Romantic Artist, (2013)
Mark Sorrell, ‘Sorrell, Alan Ernest (1904–1974)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, accessed 04 February 2016 from http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/52629
This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.
The listed building(s) is/are shown coloured blue on the attached map. Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’), structures attached to or within the curtilage of the listed building (save those coloured blue on the map) are not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act.
End of official listing