Norman Wilkinson was born in Cambridge in 1878, became a choirboy at St Paul’s Cathedral, and studied painting in Paris and London in the 1890s. He then worked for the Illustrated London News and his assignments included surreptitiously drawing the Zeppelin in Berlin in 1913.
During the First World War he originated dazzle painting of merchant ships, which was adopted by the Admiralty and all Allied Nations. In the War Norman Wilkinson was lent to the United States Navy Department, Washington, where he organised the Department of Ship Camouflage. Among his eccentricities after the War was the then very unconventional idea of persuading Seventeen Royal Academicians to paint posters for the L.M.S Railway Co. In 1924. During the Second World War, Wilkinson 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.
Wilkinson was for many years President of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours. He travelled all over the world in his lifetime. He was a keen sailing man in his youth, and a keen fisherman until his late-80s when he found he could no longer negotiate the river banks. He remarried at the of 90 and went on painting until within a year of his death in 1971 when his eyesight became difficult. In the course of his life he wrote three books, ‘The Dardanelles’ (Longmans, 1915); ‘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.