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Laurence Bagley at HMS Sultan 1950s

Laurence Bagley

Marine and Aviation Artist


Laurence Bagley was a marine and aviation artist whose paintings are admired not only for their atmospheric depiction of sea and sky but for the perfection of their technical detail. He trained as an apprentice draughtsman at Airspeed Ltd, and later joined the magazine Aeromodeller as their Staff Artist. As well as producing illustrations and plans, he painted more than a hundred cover pictures, each one a work of art in its own right.

Through the 50’s he worked as a technical illustrator at HMS Vernon while slowly developing a successful freelance career. One breakthrough was a having a front cover accepted by the prestigious Flight magazine; another was a commission from British Rail for travel posters which have remained popular as iconic images of their age. There was also a steady flow of artwork for jigsaws, calendars and greetings cards and brochures for firms like Nuffield Tractors, Cunard and Wolseley Cars. In 1958, he received a commission for the launch brochure of the liner SS Canberra for P&O and in 1966 he made an artist's impression of the yet to be launched QE2 which was used widely in Cunard's promotional material. He also painted the meticulously detailed cutaway of the same ship which was published as a poster and reproduced in several national newspapers and magazines at the time of the ship's launch.

As a writer, he contributed stories to the Eagle Annual, using them as a vehicle for his action-packed illustrations. His first book, How to Fly, published by Blackie and Son was followed by The Boy's Book of Aircraft in 1954, both generously illustrated. A glowing review in Flight magazine of 1953 says: ‘... Mr. Bagley is up to date, knows his subject, writes in a breezy manner and—above all— has illustrated his book with his own excellent drawings in black and white and colour.’

In 1968 Laurence Bagley painted The Lone Sailor, a dramatic, stormy scene from Sir Alec Rose's famous solo circumnavigation which finished in Portsmouth on 4 July 1968. Fine art prints, cards and postcards of this painting were on sale widely, the same picture was used as the cover for Rose's own book of his epic voyage: My Lively Lady. This was his most famous work.

The success of The Lone Sailor precipitated more commissions for fine art prints including Harbour Twilight (1969), an atmospheric view of Portsmouth Harbour and The Revenue Cutter (1970), a dramatic night scene of a customs cutter. He went on to paint Claire Francis’s Robertson’s Golly, and Morning Cloud which belonged to the British Prime Minister, Edward Heath. Other subjects included the Schneider Trophy races and the Titanic. His epic painting of the D-Day preparations was very popular: entitled D-Day Overture, it was commissioned for the 40th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings in 1984.

Throughout the 70's Bagley was kept busy with commercial work for many of the major firms in the Solent area such as Vosper Thorneycroft, Cunard and Westland Aircraft, bringing to life their warships, hovercraft and weapon systems in promotional literature of the time. In his artist’s impressions, he painted vivid and dramatic scenes of the latest military and civilian variants of a new generation of design. In the early 60's when Westland began to develop the hovercraft at their Saunders-Roe yard at Cowes, Isle of Wight, he produced dozens of paintings of their proposed new designs and many of the originals graced the walls of boardrooms. In 1972 Bagley painted a set of illustrations for Christopher Dawson's history of Vosper Thorneycroft: A Quest for Speed at Sea. He also produced the illustrations for Glenan’s Weather Forecasting, the highly regarded handbook for yachtsmen which included a series of paintings depicting the sea-states of the Beaufort Scale.

Laurence Bagley had a long association with Yachting Monthly magazine and in the early 80s produced a number of cover paintings, as well as illustrating many articles. Some of his bundled giveaways which included posters and prints are still collected and admired today. He also produced the odd cover illustration for their rival publication, Practical Boat Owner during the same period.

Many of the paintings described here can be found in our galleries.


Although a keen yachtsman, it was said that he was not ideal crew, as he would rather grab his sketchbook than a boathook! People who know him say he only ever wanted to be an artist. For him, the world was there to be captured on canvas and the trick was to seize the essence, to make the moment live, not as a static image but a moving, breathing moment in time. This was his life-long quest, the reason why his hand itched for his sketchbook in moments of inspiration, why he kept his notebook within reach to make jottings about composition and colour until the next time he could be back in his studio.

On 22 October 1983, two days after his 61st birthday, Laurence Bagley died. This tribute, by editor Des Sleightholme, was published in the January 1984 issue of Yachting Monthly:

‘For Laurence it had to be right. We commissioned him to paint a picture of the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) service to the crippled motorship Bonita drifting in a December hurricane in mid channel. After lengthy research with the coxswain and technical experts of the RNLI he brought us not one but two paintings. He told us: ‘You see I couldn't get it out of my mind, the splendour of the thing, the courage.’ In the event both were used, one presented to Coxswain Mike Scales and the other used in YM and then sold to the highest bidder: Laurence Bagley's personal tribute to the RNLI.’

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