Adrian Allinson was born Alfred Pulvermacher Allinson at 4 Spanish Place, Manchester Square, London, on 9 January 1890, the eldest of the five children of the physician and surgeon, Thomas Richard Allinson, and the Jewish German-born portrait painter, Hannah (née Pulvermacher).
Thomas Allinson was considered a radical figure and, in 1892, was both struck off the medical register for advocacy of vegetarianism and expelled from the Vegetarian Society for his views on birth control. In the same year, he founded the Natural Food Company and bought a stone grinding mill in Bethnal Green to produce wholemeal bread, which he had long argued was healthier than white bread. Wholemeal bread is still produced under the Allinson name.
From an early age, Adrian Allinson had opportunities to travel, and was encouraged by his artist mother to develop his interests in painting, music and languages.
In 1901, he became a boarder at Wycliffe College, Stonehouse, Gloucestershire, the headmaster of which was a vegetarian. However, having been brought up by his father as a free thinker, he tried to convince his schoolfellows that there was no God. As a result, in 1905, he was expelled and sent to Wrekin College, Wellington, Shropshire, to complete his schooling.
While studying at Middlesex Hospital Medical School, with the intention of becoming a doctor, Allinson attended evening classes in modelling at the Regent Street Polytechnic School of Art, and so began to realise his vocation as an artist. He worked for one term at the Slade School of Fine Art under the sculptor, J Havard Thomas, and took courses at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in pottery and direct carving, the latter under John Skeaping. Then, in 1910, he started full-time studies at the Slade School, under Fred Brown, Derwent Lees, Walter Westley Russell, Philip Wilson Steer and Henry Tonks. He was there during what Tonks called a ‘crisis of brilliance’, alongside many equally strong students, including Mark Gertler, C R W Nevinson, Stanley Spencer and Edward Wadsworth, who, like him, became members of the ‘Coster Gang’, who dressed and behaved like costermongers. During his second year, he and Spencer won the two Slade Scholarships.
Allinson began to exhibit in 1911, with progressive artistic groups that included the Friday Club, the New English Art Club and the Camden Town Group (the last of which gathered around the figure of Walter Sickert). Sickert guided him in his production of scenes of the theatre, music hall and ballet, some of which he began to sell to the dance historian, bookseller and publisher, Cyril Beaumont. This would lead to his producing wooden figures of dancers to be sold in Beaumont’s shop (1915-20) and illustrating Beaumont’s books (1918-19).
On graduating from the Slade School in 1912, Allinson decided to study abroad. On the advice of Wadsworth, he went to Heinrich Knirr’s school in Munich, later moving to Paris to study at the Grande Chaumière. Following his return to London, he helped found the London Group (1914, which subsumed the Camden Town Group) and held two joint exhibitions with Trelawney Dayrell-Reed at the Chenil Galleries in 1914 and 1915.
Though Allinson was an athletic figure, who enjoyed swimming, skiing and climbing, he suffered from a chronic gastric weakness that led to his being declared unfit for military service following the outbreak of the First World War. Nevertheless, he was a committed and outspoken pacifist, who aligned himself with the Bloomsbury Group at this time and, in 1916, registered as a conscientious objector. He continued to mix with the wide-ranging Bohemian set that frequented the Café Royal, and established close friendships with, among others, the composer, Philip Heseltine (known as Peter Warlock), and the artist, Alan Odle. He celebrated this milieu in one of his most important paintings, The Café Royal (private collection, 1915-16). Outside of painting, his main activities during the war were twofold. He produced caricatures for The Bystander, the Daily Express, the Daily Graphic and the Weekly Dispatch, and became the scenic designer to the Beecham Opera Company, Warlock having introduced him to Sir Thomas Beecham.
In 1919, Allinson married Adelaide Clark (née Buckland), the widow of the art teacher, Forbes Maitland Clark. It seems that she preferred to go by the Christian names ‘Joan Maria Dolores’, and so he followed suit, finally changing his given names by deed poll to ‘Adrian Paul’. With their one son – the stage and screen actor, (John) Michael Allinson (1920-2010) – they spent much of the early stage of their marriage in a small Swiss village. However, Allinson maintained a studio at the Thackeray Studios, 35 Maple Street, Fitzroy Square, and gave that as his address when beginning to exhibit, from 1921, at the Royal Academy of Arts. The fruits of his Swiss sojourn were shown in 1922 at a solo show at the St George’s Gallery.
Returning to London by the mid 1920s, the Allinsons were living at 22 Christchurch Avenue, Kilburn, by the end of the decade, and Adrian established a studio at 87a Clifton Hill, St John’s Wood, by 1933 (and that later became his home). During the 1930s, he spent part of each year painting around the Mediterranean with the German artist, Heinrich Schröder. His subjects included landscapes in Greece, Italy, Tunisia, Spain and the Balearic Islands. He exhibited the results widely with leading exhibiting societies and dealers, and was elected to the Royal Society of British Artists (1933), the Royal Institute of Oil Painters (1936) and also the Pastel Society. A craftsman as well as a painter, he presented his pottery alongside his pictures in a solo show at the Redfern Gallery, in 1931, and sculpture alongside paintings at the Leicester Galleries, in 1935, and was briefly an active member of the Art Workers’ Guild (1933-35, rejoining it in 1954). His forte for design was especially manifest in the posters that he produced for the Empire Marketing Board, London Transport and British Railways. Their imagery ranged from exotic figures to scenes of the Thames. A solo show at the Fine Art Society in 1939 evidenced his increasing focus on landscapes of the West Country.
During the Second World War, Allinson was selected as an official war artist by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee, and produced some striking paintings of the effects of war on familiar London landmarks, including Dig for Victory (Westminster City Archives, 1942), which shows St James’s Square in use as an allotment. His wife and son spent the war years in Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire, and she died in that county in 1943. In later years he developed a close friendship with the sculptor and potter, Mary Mitchell-Smith, and she would act as his executrix.
After the war, Allinson taught painting and drawing at Westminster Technical Institute, while continuing to work and exhibit into the late 1950s. Some months before his death, he collaborated with Bernard Tussaud on the creation of a wax sculpture of Kwame Nkrumah, then the first Prime Minister for Ghana, for Madame Tussauds.
Adrian Allinson died on 20 February 1959. A memorial exhibition was held at the gallery of the Royal Society of Painters in Water-Colours in June 1962 (the catalogue of which had an introduction by Mary Mitchell-Smith).
Allinson produced an unpublished autobiography entitled ‘Painter’s Pilgrimage’. The manuscript is in the collections of the McFarlin Library, university of Tulsa, Oklahoma, as part of the Dorothy Miller Richardson papers. Best known for her novel sequence, ‘Pilgrimage’, Richardson was the wife of Alan Odle and, through him, a friend of Allinson.
His work is represented in numerous public collections, including the London Transport Museum and the V&A; Manchester Art Gallery and The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery; and Aberystwyth university School of Art Museum and Galleries.
Peyton Skipwith, ‘Adrian Allinson. A Restless Talent’, Connoisseur, August 1978, pages 264-273