Norman Wilkinson was born in Cambridge in 1878 and educated at Berkhamsted School and St Paul’s Cathedral Choir School, before studying painting in Paris and at Southsea School of Art. He began his career working for The Illustrated London News and in First World War devised the concept of Dazzle camouflage which was adopted by the Admiralty. He served with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve during the Gallipoli Campaign, later publishing a book documenting his time there - The Dardanelles, colour sketches from Gallipoli (Longmans, 1915). During the interwar period he made a significant contribution to travel poster art, designing posters for the major rail companies as well as organising a series of posters to be commissioned from members of the Royal Academy in 1924. In the Second World War, he was Inspector of Camouflage for the Royal Air Force and held the honorary rank of Air Commodore. He was present at the D-Day landings in Normandy on HMS Jervis. He was first and foremost a marine artist and his love of sailing and the sea led him to paint all over the world. He was a keen angler and in his later career, The Tryon Gallery held a number of exhibitions of his fishing subjects, a passion shared by gallery founder Alymer Tryon.


As well as his Dardanelles book, Wilkinson wrote; ‘Watercolour Sketching Out of Doors’ (pub. Seeley Service) and his autobiography ‘A Brush with Life’ (Seeley Service, 1969). In addition to painting both in oil and watercolour, he produced a number of etchings which were reproduced in books on fishing. Perhaps the most famous of these is “A Summer on the Test” which is written by John Hills and published in 1930.


Wilkinson served as President of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours (1936-1963), Honorary Marine Painter to the Royal Yacht Squadron and was awarded a CBE in 1948. He exhibited widely, including the Royal Society of British Artists, the Royal Institute of Oil Painters and the Royal Society of Marine Artists. Today his works can be found in major collections including the National Maritime Museum, Imperial War Museum and National Railway Museum. A painting of Plymouth Harbour he created for the first-class smoking room of the RMS Titanic perished with the ship in 1912.