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Sir John Newenham Summerson

1 of 4 portraits of Sir John Newenham Summerson

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Sir John Newenham Summerson

by Leonard Rosoman
oil on canvas, 1984
60 in. x 48 in. (1521 mm x 1220 mm)
Commissioned, 1984
Primary Collection
NPG 5730

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Leonard Rosoman (1913-2012), Painter. Artist or producer of 4 portraits, Sitter in 7 portraits.

This portraitback to top

Leonard Rosoman painted Summerson in Sir John Soane's Museum shortly before his retirement in 1984.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 215
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 215 Read entry

    Tall and spare, and an elegant prose stylist, Sir John Summerson typified the professional madarinate that dominated government and the arts after the Second World War. Educated at Harrow and the Bartlett School of Architecture, Summerson turned to writing about architecture in the early 1930s, under the pseudonym 'Coolmore'. In 1945 he became Curator of Sir John Soane's Museum in Lincoln's Inn Fields and remained in this post until his retirement in 1984, aged 80, combining his not very onerous official duties with numerous committees and a succession of major books. Leonard Rosoman was commissioned to undertake a portrait of him shortly before his retirement and depicted him, most appropriately, at the Soane Museum.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 598
  • Simon, Jacob, The Art of the Picture Frame: Artists, Patrons and the Framing of Portraits in Britain, 1997 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 8 November 1996 - 9 February 1997), p. 189 Read entry

    Silvered obeche(?), mitred and underpinned, the reverse section moulding applied to a narrow underframe, the overlapping of the silver leaf visible, the leaf width the standard 3 3⁄ 4 inches, the silvering oxidised and varnished. 3 1⁄ 8 inches wide.

    'I hope that you approve of the frame', wrote Rosoman to the Gallery's Director in 1984 on completion of the portrait, 'Hawker has done a very good job, I think, and somehow has been able to give us an overall surface of oxidised silver at the reduced price'. The frame was made

    for £310.50 by Nick Hawker whom Rosoman has known for a very long time, ever since the days Hawker worked for Robert Sielle, Rosoman's framemaker in the 1960s.1 Rosoman usually asks Hawker to come to his studio to discuss framing at some length: 'Usually we agree. It's a matter of trust. He knows the sort of thing I want'. Rosoman has used oxidised silver frames quite often, finding that solid gold frames do not suit the delicate colouring of his pictures.

    1 Much of this entry is based on a telephone conversation with Leonard Rosoman, April 1996.

Placesback to top

Events of 1984back to top

Current affairs

The Provisional IRA bomb the Grand Hotel in Brighton where various politicians, including the Prime Minister, where staying for the annual Conservative Party conference. The bomb killed five people including a conservative MP, but no members of the cabinet. Thatcher began the next session of the conference the following morning at 9.30 as planned saying: 'all attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail.'

Art and science

Dr Alec Jeffreys discovers that patterns in an individual's DNA can be identified and that each person has a unique 'genetic fingerprint'. The technique was soon utilised by forensic scientists to help in criminal investigations, and in order to identify human remains, for paternity testing, and to match organ donors.
Ted Hughes is appointed poet Laureate.


Ethiopia suffers severe drought and famine. The Ethiopian government responded by uprooting large numbers of peasants in the worst affected areas and by setting up new villages for the displaced people. However, the planned villages were frequently poorly equipped and many people chose to flee rather than acquiesce with government plans leading to further decline in food production and bringing the total death toll to over 1 million.

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