Anglia Ruskin exhibition pays tribute to St Trinians originator Ronald Searle

Published: 15 October 2007 at 12:01

Work of legendary graphic artist is to be featured as new St Trinian’s film prepares for release.

As cameras are rolling on the latest film in the St Trinian’s saga, Anglia Ruskin University is preparing to pay tribute to the originator of the cartoons, on which the films are based in the form of a stunning exhibition of his life’s work.

The first film, staring Alastair Sim and Joyce Grenfell, was made in 1954 and it chronicled the unruly adventures of the ‘school for young ladies’.  Now being revisited by top names including Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Russell Brand and Stephen Fry, it is bringing Ronald Searle, a former student of the Cambridge School of Art which now sits at the heart of Anglia Ruskin University, back into the media spotlight.

The exhibition Ronald Searle – A Celebration will be open on 10 January at the Ruskin Gallery on the University’s Cambridge campus, to follow the launch of the film, planned for release on 21 December 2007. The show will feature the legendary graphic artist’s St Trinian’s cartoons along with his famous political sketches and truly sobering wartime illustrations.

Ronald Searle has been described as the greatest graphic artist of our time. His distinctive brand of visual commentary and satire has been familiar to generations through seven decades of continuous output.  

A caricaturist, cartoonis, illustrator, designer and publisher, Ronald Searle was born in Cambridge in 1920, the son of a railwayman, and educated at Boy’s Central School, Cambridge. He started work as a solicitor’s clerk, before studying in the evenings and later full time at Cambridge Technical College and School of Art (1936- 1939). He said of this time,

“At the Cambridge School of Art it was drummed into us that we should not move, eat, drink or sleep without a sketchbook in the hand. Consequently, the habit of looking and drawing became as natural as breathing.”

While studying, Seale had his first professional work published in the Cambridge Daily News (now the Cambridge Evening News) from 1935-39 (where his predecessor was Sidney Moon) and Granta. They were signed R.W.F. Searle.

His studies were interrupted by the outbreak of war. He was captured by the Japanese and spent much of the war as a prisoner. During this time he secretly produced a body of drawings that record in graphic detail the misery and degradation of this experience. The drawings are now held at the Imperial War Museum.

After the war, Searle forged a highly successful career as a humorous artist whose range would span everything from the hugely successful St Trinian's characters to gritty documentary/reportage drawings, and the hard-hitting political comment for which he is most keen to be remembered.

Martin Salisbury from Anglia Ruskin University said:

“Since his time as a student at Cambridge School of Art, Ronald Searle has been an inspiration to generations of art students. His work sits within a particular tradition in Britain of graphic satire and he is often referred to as the 'artist's artist' within this genre. Although best known by the public for his creation of the St Trinians phenomenon, his work as a biting political and social commentator may perhaps be the more lasting contribution to the arts.”

Commenting on the exhibition, Anglia Ruskin University’s Vice Chancellor Professor Michael Thorne said:

“This prestigious exhibition is a fitting tribute to the Cambridge School of Art's greatest living alumnus.”

“While Ronald is unable to attend this fabulous celebration of his life’s work, he is working very closely with us to give us access to his entire catalogue.  We are also borrowing some prints from some very famous celebrities who are fortunate enough to own some of his work.”

“This will be one of our finest exhibitions yet.”

Since the early 1960s Ronald Searle has lived in France. Now in his late 80s, he has received numerous awards for his work and been honoured with major retrospective exhibitions of his work.

He was presented with an Honorary Doctorate of the University by Anglia Ruskin University in November and will be putting his name to a student prize, The Ronald Searle Award for Creativity in the Arts, during 2008.

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