Alan Sorrell (1904-1974) was an artist best known for his reconstruction drawings of historic sites and monuments, and tableaux of ancient life. His distinctive style—with contrasts of light and dark, and threateningly stormy or unstable backdrops—was carefully researched for accuracy, and has proven inspirational both to archaeologists and the broader public.
Under the direction of Professor Matthew Johnson and Dr Sara Perry, this project represents a pilot study of the archive of Alan Sorrell, currently on loan to the Society of Antiquaries of London by his family. Never before subject to systematic investigation, the archive is populated primarily by artwork produced for Sorrell’s books, alongside accompanying sketches, correspondence, and working notes and drawings.
During the mid-20th century, Sorrell produced defining images of many of Britain’s most renowned archaeological sites, and in so doing, arguably helped to transform the institutional and intellectual dimensions of British archaeology. With a neo-Romantic sensibility and a career that included employment by the former Ministry of Works, he stands at the junction of a series of potent conceptual concerns in the discipline—between art and archaeology; academic and broader public consumption; discipline and imagination; scholarship and governmental establishment.
Alongside cataloguing the archive, with the help of Graeme Earl and Matthew Harrison (U Southampton) we are also exploring options for digitising Sorrell’s imagery and experimenting with associated digital interactions (e.g., annotations, tagging, online searching).
For more details about our work and the archive, or to share your memories of Alan Sorrell, please visit and contribute to our blog.
- Matthew Johnson
- Sara Perry
- Matthew Harrison