Robert Stewart “Bob” Sherriffs was born in Arbroath, Scotland, on 13 February 1906, the son of a flax merchant. Sherriffs showed an early interest in art, and was an arts medallist at Arbroath High School before going to Edinburgh College of Art in 1923. Influenced by Aubrey Beardsley and Alphonse Mucha, he later recalled that his three years at art school “confirmed my previous conviction that figures and faces were patterns to be studied and memorised - not patiently drawn from life.” Sherriffs also developed a life-long love of heraldic art.
In January 1927 Sherriffs moved to London, and showed his portfolio around the commercial art and advertising studios. He also sent caricatures to illustrated magazines, and a drawing of John Barrymore was accepted by The Bystander. This led to a commission to illustrated a series of celebrity profiles for The Sketch, and these were so successful that from 1930 onwards Sherriffs was the magazine’s film and theatre caricaturist. In 1931 Sherriffs married Vera Anderson in London.
From 1927 onwards Sherriffs also drew for the BBC’s Radio Times, and in 1935, after the death of Arthur Watts in an air crash, he took over as illustrator for the magazine’s prominent feature “Both Sides of the Microphone”.He also did work for Theatre World, Oxford and Cambridge, Nash’s Magazine, Pall Mall, Strand, and John O’London, and drew covers for Men Only. In 1933 Sherriffs also tried his hand at political cartooning, in the Sunday Referee, but it was not a success. After Will Dyson’s death, in January 1938, he applied to be political cartoonist on the Daily Herald, but was turned down.
After the outbreak of war in 1939 Sherriffs joined the Tank Regiment, but later became a war artist, illustrating aircraft recognition handbooks. Demobilised in 1945, he found that the market for magazine illustration had profoundly changed, and he returned for a time to Scotland. However, in 1948 Sherriffs returned to London, where he married Emla Greenwood and in the same year succeeded J.H. Dowd as film caricaturist for Punch. Soon afterwards Sherriffs also returned to regular work for the Radio Times.
Influenced by Edmund Dulac, with whom he worked for a time, Sherriffs also illustrated a number of books, beginning in 1930 with Christopher Marlowe’s The Life and Death of Tamburlaine the Great. He also wrote the comic novel Salute if You Must (1944).
A tall, lean figure, with striking violet-blue eyes, and often wearing a characteristic knotted scarf, Sheriffs’s most famous film caricatures were produced from studio stills or drawn after brief visits to preview screenings, where he seldom remained for the whole film. He preferred to draw with a brush rather than a pen, and, contemptuous of deadlines and averse to working in London, he dispatched his finished work by train.
“Sherriffs was sophisticated, literate, but wrapped always in a cloak of shyness”, noted Nicholas Bromley, and throughout his career he “successfully guarded his privacy from both his public and his contemporaries.” Diagnosed with cancer in 1959, Sherriffs burned all his personal papers before he was admitted to hospital. He died on 26 December 1960.
- Mark Bryant Dictionary of Twentieth-Century British Cartoonists and Caricaturists (Ashgate, Aldershot, 2000), pp.204-5.
- Nicholas Bromley “Robert Stewart Sherriffs”, introduction to Simon Bond and Nicholas Bromley Sherriffs at the Cinema (Methuen, London, ).
10 unaccessioned originals
Undated (fl. 1920s - 60s)back to top