David Gentleman (born 11 March 1930, London) is an English artist-designer. He studied illustration at the Royal College of Art under Edward Bawden and John Nash. He has worked in various media - watercolour, lithography, wood engraving - and at scales ranging from the platform-length murals for Charing Cross underground station in London to postage stamps and logos. His themes too have varied widely, from paintings of landscape and environmental posters for the National Trust to drawings of street life in London and protest placards against the Iraq war. He has written and illustrated many books about countries and cities and has travelled widely throughout Britain, France, Italy and India.
His work is represented in Tate Britain, the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Fitzwilliam Museum.
Commissioned series of watercolours have included landscapes for Shell, several Oxford Almanacks for the Oxford University Press, and interiors of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for the FCO. His drawings and watercolours have been reproduced on textiles and wallpapers, dinner plates for Wedgwood and on a Covent Garden mug for David Mellor. His architectural drawings have appeared in House & Garden, The Sunday Times, New York Magazine, and on the RIBA’s series of Everyday Architecture wallcharts. His most recently published watercolours were made as illustrations for Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay by George Ewart Evans, 2010. In 2010, Gentleman was specially commissioned by Dulwich Picture Gallery to create a design for its Christmas Card. The original watercolour painting behind the design, 'Suffolk Garden under Snow' captures the artist's own garden in winter.
Gentleman’s early wood engravings were for Penguin paperbacks, greetings cards, wine lists, press ads, and books – a lavish Swiss Family Robinson for Limited Editions Club of New York, and a more modest edition of John Clare's The Shepherd's Calendar for the Oxford University Press. He later engraved 32 covers for the New Penguin Shakespeare series. His wood engravings also appear on many of his stamps, and at a very different scale in a 100 metre-long mural, his most widely seen public work. In 1978 London Transport commissioned the platform-length Eleanor Cross murals on the underground at Charing Cross station. It shows, step by step as if in a strip cartoon, how the medieval workforce built the original cross, from quarrying the stone to setting in place the topmost pinnacle. Its wood-engraved images of stonemasons and sculptors, enlarged twenty times to life-size, mirror today’s passengers, 20,000 a day, also going about their day’s work.
Gentleman has illustrated many books by other people, including drawings for the classic cookbook Plats du Jour and engravings for John Clare’s The Shepherd’s Calendar. In 2009 he painted watercolours to illustrate Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay by George Ewart Evans. For the Limited Editions Club of New York he illustrated The Swiss Family Robinson, Keats’ Poems, The Jungle Book, and The Ballad of Robin Hood, and several books for children, including Russell Hoban’s The Dancing Tigers. He has also designed many paperback covers and jackets: for Penguin Books, E. M. Forster’s novels and the New Penguin Shakespeare wood engravings; for Faber, many watercolours for Siegfried Sassoon and Lawrence Durrell novels; and for Duckworth, wood engraved or typographical designs for scientific and classical works.
Between 1962 and 2000 Gentleman designed 103 stamps for the Post Office, making him the most prolific and acclaimed stamp designer in Britain. These include sets for Shakespeare, Churchill, Darwin, British Ships, Concorde, the Battle of Britain, the Battle of Hastings, the BBC, Good King Wenceslas, The Twelve Days of Christmas, Social Reformers, Ely Cathedral, Abbotsbury Swannery and the Millennium. Perhaps his greatest contribution to stamp design was his album of experimental designs, later described as ‘revolutionary’, which was commissioned by Tony Benn, then Postmaster General. In 1965 Gentleman had written to Benn suggesting that British special stamps would be enhanced by making their subjects more interesting and by dispensing with the large photograph of the Queen then mandatory, or alternatively replacing it with a smaller profile silhouette derived initially from Mary Gillick’s coinage head. The purpose of ‘The Gentleman Album’ was to demonstrate how such proposals would work out in practice. Over forty years later, the wider range of subjects, the profile and the simpler designs that it made possible remain an established feature of all British special stamps.
The Royal Mint have issued two of Gentleman's coin designs. The first (issued jointly with the Monnaie de Paris in 2004) celebrated the centenary of the Entente Cordiale, and the second in 2007 commemorated the bicentenary of the Act for the abolition of the slave trade. Other miniature design commissions have included symbols or logos for the Bodleian Library, British Steel and a redesign of the National Trust’s familiar symbol of a spray of oak leaves.
Gentleman's first lithographs were posters for an Royal College of Art theatre group production of Orphee and a student exhibition, and one of his first commissions was for a large Lyons lithograph. Between 1970 and 2008 he went on to make many suites of lithographs of buildings (Covent Garden, South Carolina, Bath) and landscapes (of Gordale Scar, of the Seven Sisters, and several of Suffolk subjects). Most of these lithographs were printed in several colours and were essentially representational. In 1970 he made the six much more severely formalised and almost poster-like Fortifications, screenprints which were published in New York. A number of these lithographs and screenprints are in the collections of Tate Britain.