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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Maurice Wilson

Born in Hornsey, London, on 15 March 1914, Maurice Charles John Wilson was best known as a wildlife artist whose work appeared in dozens of books and on cards given away with Brooke Bond tea. He was educated at the Hastings School of Art (under Philip Cole) and the Royal Academy Schools (under Malcolm Osborne and Robert Austin) and later taught anatomical and plant drawing.

As early as 1941, Wilson was described as having "driven a car through various parts of the continent ... he can ride a horse, keeps a bob-tailed collie, favours Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Mogul painting and lives any odd way that suits him at the moment."

Wilson's first nature book, a study of monkeys, was published in 1937 and was followed with studies of dogs and a variety of zoo animals, published after the Second World War. His water colour paintings attracted the attention of the British Museum and Natural History Museum, where he helped reconstruct the look of dinosaurs from fossils. His work in this area was much respected and the Natural History Museum website notes:
Wilson's style was very versatile, but he is best known for his prehistoric reconstructions. His talent for representing prehistoric life lay in his ability to bring to life creatures never seen by humans by giving a sheen to feathers, or by using a light and dark contrast to hairs of mammals. By painting scenery in a realistic way, he also gave his subjects a definite scale and placed prehistoric animals in an historical context.
    His anthropological work can be found in Peter Andrews and Chris Stringer's publication Human Evolution: An Illustrated Guide (1989), with his animal reconstructions published in W. E. Swinton's very popular handbooks which included Fossil Amphibian and Reptiles (1954) and Fossil Birds (1958). Wilson also illustrated Wilfrid Le Gros Clark's, A History of the Primates (1949) with a series of fine black and white drawings whilst other illustrations have accompanied displays in the Museum's public galleries.
The later Prehistoric Animals by Barry Cox (1976) was produced in association with the Thames Television series and Wilson was also a graphic designer on the TV documentary Life on Earth (1979).

One, a picture of a Neanderthal family painted in 1950, featured Giles Oakley and his brother as models for two young Neanderthals having a childish scrap. He later recalled:
Maurice was a real character, as I recall from his regular and keenly-awaited visits to our home in Amersham, Bucks, some thirty-odd miles from London. An eccentric, bohemian dresser, he'd bound out of the car and stride up the front path clad in a long coat with string round the waist plus open-toed sandals and a raffish cravat at his neck. His hair was worn fairly long in oiled ringlets like a stereotypical gypsy, making him for years my image of what 'an artist' was like, not unlike some Agatha Christie suspect. He had a beguiling approach with children, never talking down to us but full of little tricks and jokes to keep us entertained, although it was always clear that he was deeply serious about his work as a natural history illustrator.
    My parents greatly admired his artistic skill which was characterised by a deceptively simple mastery of line and shading, enriched by subtle colour washes and an overall softness of tone. Several of his paintings and prints used to adorn the walls at home in Amersham and they are still much loved in the family. One of those I inherited used to hang above my father's desk in his study, a large sketch Maurice did in April 1950 of 'Australopithecos', looking faintly melancholy and soulful, as though dimly conscious of his evolutionary fate. Whether conjuring up an imagined past in deep antiquity or simply painting feathers and fur from direct observation, there was always a warmth and humanity about Maurice's work, often caught in the poignant expressiveness of a creature's eyes.
Wilson lived in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, where he died in November 1987.


Illustrated Books
Just Monkeys. London, Country Life, 1937.
Dogs. Harmondsworth, Penguin Books (Puffin Picture Book 56), 1946.
Coastal Craft. London, Noel Carrington, 1947.
Animals We Know. London, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1959. 
Animals. London, Studio Vista, 1964.
Birds. London, Studio Vista, 1965.

Books Illustrated  
Zoo Animals by E. G. Boulenger. West Drayton, Penguin Books (Puffin Picture Books 73), 1948. 
History of the Primates: An Introduction to the Study of Fossil Man by Wilfred Le Gros Clark. London, British Museum, 1949.
Zoo Birds by David Seth Smith. Harmondsworth, Penguin Books (Puffin Picture Books 68), 1951.
Fossil Amphibians and Reptiles by W. E. Swinton. London, British Museum, 1954.
A Guide to Earth History by Richard Carrington. London, Chatto & Windus, 1956.
Birds and Beasts ed. James Fisher. London, Phoenix House, 1956.
Mermaids and Mastadons: A Book of Unnatural History by Richard Carrington. London, Chatto & Windus, 1957.
Elephants by Richard Carrington, illus. with others. London, Chatto & Windus, 1958.
Fossil Birds by W. E. Swinton. London, British Museum, 1958.
Fossils by H. H. Swinnerton. London, Collins, 1960.
The Singing Forest by H. Mortimer Batten. London, Heinmann, 1960.
Under the Sea by Maurice Burton. London, Vista Books, 1960.
Fables from Aesop retold by James Reeves. London & Glasgow, Blackie, 1961.
The Heart of the Hunter by Laurens van der Post. London, Hogarth Press, 1961.
Donkey Work by Doreen Tovey. London, Elek Books, 1962.
A World of Animals by Margery Fisher. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1962. 
Animals of the Arctic by Gwynne Vevers. London, Bodley Head, 1964.
Nature on the Move by Ronald Marchant. London, Bell, 1965.
Bambi: A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten. London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1967.
A River Ran Out of Eden by James Vance Marshall. London, Heinemann Educational Books, 1967.
The Origins of Man by John Russell Napier. London, Bodley Head, 1968.
First Interest on the Farm by Peter Shaw. London, Ginn, 7 vols., 1969.
A Long Time Ago by Robin Place, London, Ginn, 14 vols., 1969-70.
The New Boy by Doreen Tovey. London, Joseph, 1970.
Patch by Helen Griffiths. London, Hutchinson, 1970.
Man, Civilzation and Conquest by Margaret Sharman. London, Evans Bros, 1971.
China Long Ago by Sandie Oram. London, Macdonald & Co., 1972.
First Interest in the Wider World by E. J. Barker. London, Ginn, 7 vols., 1972.
Double Trouble by Doreen Tovey. London, Joseph, 1972; New York, Norton, 1972.
Making the Horse Laugh by Doreen Tovey. London, Joseph, 1974.
The Earliest Farmers and the First Cities by Charles Higham, illus. with Peter Duncan. London, Cambridge University Press, 1974.
The Quizzer Book About People compiled by George Beal, illus. with Jon Davis. London, Owlet Books, 1975.
Oh Those Cats by Frances Mann. London, Elek Books, 1975.
A Quorum of Cats: An Anthology ed. Elizabeth Lee. London, Elek Books, 1976.
A Closer Look at Arctic Lands by Jill Hughes. London, Hamilton, 1976.
Prehistoric Animals by Barry Cox. Guildford, Lutterworth Press, 1976.
A Closer Look at Plains Indians by Christopher Davis, illus. with George Thompson. London, Hamilton, 1977.
A Closer Look at Eskimos by Jill Hughes. London, Hamilton, 1977.
Ponies by Joyce Pope. London, Scimitar, 1977.
Birds of Prey by Cathy Kilpatrick. illus. with Mike Woodhatch. London, Scimitar, 1978.
A Closer Look at Amazonian Indians by Stephen Hugh-Jones. London, Hamilton, 1978.
A Closer Look at the Bedouin by Fidelity Lancaster. London, Hamilton, 1978.
Cats in the Belfry by Doreen Tovey. Stevenage, Herts., Robin Clark, 1978.
Horses ed. Henry Pluckrose, illus. with Peter Barrett. London, Hamilton, 1979.
Lions and Tigers ed. Henry Pluckrose. London, Hamilton, 1979.
A Closer Look at Aboriginies by Jill Hughes, London, Hamilton, 1979.
Birds ed. Henry Pluckrose, illus. with John RIgnall. London, Hamilton, 1979.
A Comfort of Cats by Doreen Tovey. London, Joseph, 1979.
A Closer Look at Grasslands by Catherine Horton. London, Hamilton, 1979.
Lifeclass by Jean Medawar. London, Hamilton, 1980.
Plains Indians ed. Henry Pluckrose. London, Hamilton, 1980.
Aborigines ed. Henry Pluckrose. London, Hamilton, 1981.
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. London, Macmillan Children's, 1983.
The Second Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. London, Macmillan Children's, 1984.
All the Mowgli Stories by Rudyard Kipling. London, Macmillan, 1984.
Lions and Tigers by Jill Hughes, illus. with Peter Barrett. London, Hamilton, 1985. 
Deserts by Jill Hughes, illus. with Roy Coombs. London, Hamilton, 1986.
Human Evolution: An Illustrated Guide by Peter Andrews and Chris Stringer, foreword by Alan Charig. London, British Museum, 1989.

How Things Began (8 educational posters). London, BBC Educational, 1950.
Prehistoric Animals. Brooke Bond, 1971.
Wonders of Wildlife. Brooke Bond, 1976.

(* Note: The original text for this piece included the following, which has since been proven to relate to another Maurice Wilson entirely:
Wilson's autobiography, The Wartime Adventures of B Squadron 'Corpse' (Tunbridge Wells, Parapress, 1997), was publishing posthumously, relating how he joined the 11th Battalion Royal Tank Regiment in 1941 and spent much of the war in a Matilda tank, weathering sandstorms in the Middle East, taking part in the landings at Walcheren and in the 'CDL' experiment which involved placing blindingly bright carbon arc lamps in the turrets of tanks to create a wall of light when the tanks were lined up—an idea that was never used in battle)


Alberto Soares said...

Thank you for this article, Steve.
I was first aware of Wilson through the portuguese edition of "A Closer Look at Plains Indians" and since then I am an admirer of his work, but had never read anything about the man himself.
Your listing of books he illustrated will help me find more of his work.
A deep "thank you" from Portugal!

Unknown said...

A couple of corrections for you. I'm his son & can vouch for the following.

He was actually born in Hornsey a few miles from Edmonton all now swallowed up the North London suburbs.

The autobiography was a completely different Maurice Wilson, just coincidentally with a Tunbridge Wells publisher. At the beginning of the War he worked in a timber yard, & a chain broke dropping 20 tons oak tree on his leg. He spent much of the next couple of years having nearly all of the 6 inches of lost bone grown back in Sevenoaks Hospital. He certainly never drove a tank.

His work continued to be deeply concentrated on wildlife as well as his paleontological, archaeological & anthropological illustration right up to the end of his life. He was a founder member & lifelong VP of the Society of Wildlife Artists, part of the Federation of British Artists which continues to be based at the Mall Galleries in Central London.

Regards, Oliver Wilson

Steve said...

Hi Oliver,

Many thanks for the corrections, which I'll sort out shortly. If you care to share anything else about your dad, I'll be more than happy to expand this little entry for him.

Ice Torch said...

Maurice Wilson also provided the designs for a set of WWF collector coins: Malaysia - 15, 25 and 500 ringgit, 1976 (gaur, hornbill and tapir). The coins were produced by the Royal Mint. I know of no other coin designs by Mr Wilson. I found this info in the Royal Mint Annual Report for 1975-6, at the National Archives Kew.