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His themes include paintings of landscape and environmental posters to drawings of street life and protest placards. He has written and illustrated many books, mostly about countries and cities. He also designed a number of British commemorative postage stamps.
He has lived and worked in the same house on Gloucester Crescent in Camden Town since 1956, and also in Suffolk, travelling only for work. He has four children: a daughter by his first wife Rosalind Dease, a fellow-student at the RCA, and two daughters and a son by his second wife Susan Evans, the daughter of the writer George Ewart Evans. His and Susan's daughter Amelia, a Guardian journalist, is married to the Conservative politician Jo Johnson.
Gentleman paints and draws landscapes, buildings and people, and uses drawing in his design work. Many of his watercolours have been made in London and Suffolk and around Britain, on extended travels in France, Italy and India, and during briefer spells in South Carolina, East Africa, the Pacific and Brazil. He has held many exhibitions of these works. 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 In the Country, 2014. In 2010, Gentleman was commissioned by Dulwich Picture Gallery to create a design for its Christmas Card.
Gentleman's early wood engravings were for Penguin paperbacks, greetings cards, wine lists, press ads, and books - Swiss Family Robinson and John Clare's The Shepherd's Calendar. He engraved a series of 32 covers for the New Penguin Shakespeare series. His wood engravings appear on many of his stamps, and 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, as 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 going about their day's work.
Between 1982 and 1997, Gentleman wrote and illustrated six travel books: David Gentleman's Britain, London, Coastline, Paris, India and Italy, and more recently London You're Beautiful, 2012 and In the Country, 2014. He also wrote and illustrated four books about a small child on holiday: Fenella in Ireland, Greece, Spain and the South of France.
Gentleman has illustrated many books by other people, including drawings for the cookbook Plats du Jour. 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 City he illustrated The Swiss Family Robinson, Keats's Poems, The Jungle Book, and The Ballad of Robin Hood, and several books for children, including Russell Hoban's The Dancing Tigers. He has 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.
His stamp designs included an album of experimental designs commissioned by Tony Benn, then Postmaster General to show how stamps could dispense with the large photograph of the Queen then mandatory, or alternatively replace it with a smaller profile silhouette derived initially from Mary Gillick's coinage head. More than 40 years later, the wider range of subjects, the profile and the simpler designs that it made possible remain a feature of all British special stamps.
Gentleman has designed posters for public institutions including London Transport (Visitors' London and Victorian London), the Imperial War Museum, and the Public Record Office. A series in the seventies for the National Trust, used unconventional designs, photographs and photo-montages; some won design awards. Later, poster-like designs replaced words in his book A Special Relationship (Faber, 1979) on the US/UK alliance. Gentleman regretted that these images were not displayed as actual posters. On the eve of the Iraq war in 2003, Gentleman offered the Stop the War Coalition a poster saying simply 'No', which was carried on the protest march. Other march placards followed, including 'No more lies' and 'Bliar'. His largest design was an installation in 2007 of 100,000 drops of blood, one for each person already killed in that war. The bloodstains were printed on 1,000 sheets of card pegged out in a vast square covering the grass in Parliament Square.
Lithographs and screenprints
Gentleman's first lithographs were posters for a 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 made suites of lithographs of buildings (Covent Garden, South Carolina, Bath) and landscapes (of Gordale Scar, of the Seven Sisters, and of Suffolk subjects). These lithographs were printed in colour and were essentially representational. In 1970 he made six more poster-like screenprints, Fortifications, published in New York City. A number of these are in the collections of Tate Britain.
Surveys of Gentleman's work
David Gentleman, 'Bridges on the Backs', in Parenthesis; 14 (2008 February), p. 7-9
The wood engravings of David Gentleman. Montgomery: Esslemont, 2000) ISBN0-907014-17-8
David Gentleman - Design. Brian Webb and Peyton Skipwith. (Antique Collectors' Club, 2009) ISBN978-1-85149-595-5
Peter Tucker, 'David Gentleman as book illustrator', in The Private Library; 4th series, 1:2 (1988 Summer), p. 50-100
Mel Calman, 'The Gentleman touch', in Penrose Annual; 69 (1976), p. 157-168
Books by Gentleman
Bridges on the backs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961.
A cross for Queen Eleanor: The story of the building of the mediaeval Charing Cross, the subject of the decorations of the Northern Line platforms of the new Charing Cross Underground Station. London: London Transport, 1979. ISBN0-85329-101-2