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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Mervyn Suart

I stumbled across Mervyn Suart yesterday while I was looking at the latest batch of Look and Learn website artwork. The above picture is from the Look and Learn spin-off The Bible Story, which has to be one of the most beautifully illustrated magazines ever put out. You don't have to be religious to appreciate good art.

Tucked away, lower right, was an indecipherable signature (my first guess was Savign Suarf). Then, by coincidence, I was looking for another illustration in Once Upon a Time magazine and stumbled across the same signature, slightly more readable this time.

So... what do we know about Mervyn Suart?

He was born in Walthamstow, London, on 19 April 1908, the son of John William Gilbert Suart, a leather salesman, and his wife Maud Beatrice (nee Baker), who had married at St. Peter's Church, Holborn, on 9 June 1907. Two younger sisters Marjorie (b. 1910) and Evelyn (b.1913) both died in infancy in 1914. Mervyn and his parents were living at 31 Napier Road, Leytonstone, when his father joined the Royal Field Artillery and became part of the Expeditionary Forces sent to France in 1916; he was eventually discharged in 1919.

The family continued to live in East London where a younger son, Brian, was born in 1924. Mervyn married Irene Florence B. Johnson, known as Rene, in 1932 by which time he had possibly already established himself as a commercial artist. By 1938 he was represented by Francis & Mills, one of the leading agencies of the time, and his address given as 7-05 Endsleigh Court, Upper Woburn Place, Euston W.C.1.

The earliest illustrations from this period I've traced are from a 1936 issue of Holly Leaves, a sporting and countryside magazine, and a 1938 illustration in The Tatler; he was still contributing to Holly Leaves in 1950, by which time he had moved to 113 Bulwer Road, Leytonstone E.11. The "His Master's Voice" poster below dates from 1937.

Suart was attached to the Royal Army Medical Corps during World War II, for some time working for the famous plastic surgeon Sir Harold Gillies, who treated burnt and disfigured airmen. Because coloured film was not available, Suart had to paint before and after records of the servicemen's injuries. Private Suart was also attached to an ophthalmic wing during the European campaign, probably in Italy in around 1943-44, where he recorded injuries caused by shellfire and mines.

After the war he continued to work as a commercial artist. One of his most widely displayed paintings was a poster for Butlin's, showing a woman with a large beach ball. The poster was later slightly adapted to become the front cover of the novel The Toff at Butlin's by John Creasey -- one of a number of books Butlin's commissioned to advertise their holiday camps. Suart often used his wife as a model for beautiful women as he did later their daughter Susan.

Suart was briefly a teacher in the 1970s, one of his former students, David Gibbs, recalling, "Going through some junk today I came across a sketch/drawing by Mervyn Suart of me. He was my art teacher at Norlington School, Leytonstone, circa 1974. I got on fairly well with him (a bit too classy for the rif raf he taught in hindsight!), he told me he worked in commercial art (posters, etc.) before giving up to be a teacher."

As well as his commercial artwork, Suart also found time for painting, including oil paintings of Sidmouth in Devon.

About 1954 he moved to 6 Wadley Road, Leytonstone, E.11 and there he remained until his death, which was registered in Waltham Forest in 1992, aged 84. Rene had predeceased him, having died in 1982.

Thanks to Mervyn Suart's sister-in-law Wendy, we know something of his brother's career, too. Brian, who died in 1990, was an engineer on the Foreign Service staff of Cable and Wireless, serving in many overseas stations. He eventually became General Manager of the Hong Kong branch, the most senior foreign posting. He then became Director at Head Office in London. Retiring at 55, he took up sculpture and pottery. "I married him in Jesselton, North Borneo," says Wendy Law Suart, an author, professional musician and public speaker. There is a fine portrait of her husband painted by his brother on the occasion of Brian being awarded the OBE.

Wendy, has her own website, and her fourth book, Colonial Swansong: A Mem's Memoirs, which includes a great deal more information about Mervyn and the Suart family, was recently published.

Illustrated Books
On the Road by Donn Byrne. London, Longman, 1965.
Green Island by Anthony Eyre. Harlow, Essex, Longman, 1966.
The Story of Hamad the Diver told by his Grandson. Harlow, Essex, Longman, 1967.

(* My thanks to Wendy Law Suart and David Gibbs for sharing their memories of Mervyn Suart.)

4 comments:

  1. Mervyn Suart served with the RAMC during the war, in the Uk and I think Italy. I have a wonderful pastel portrait of my late father, done in Chichester, in 1942, by Mervyn. It is a wonderful likeness, and my treasured posession. he acted as the company's artist and portrait painter. A talented man.
    ctn

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  2. Thanks, CTN. It's little snippets like this that help build up to a fuller picture of these often unknown and forgotten artists.

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  3. Mervyn Suart was my husband's grandad and is very fondly remembered. We have lots of his artwork round the house. Ask if you want to know more about him: am sure we can fill in the details! Allie.

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  4. Allie,

    It's messages like this that make all the hard work worthwhile!

    I'd love to know more about your... grandad-in-law. Please drop me a line -- my e-mail address can be found next to the grim-looking photo top right.

    Steve

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