Leonard Victor Mitchell

b. 1925d. 1980

Also known as:

  • Victor Leonard William Mitchell

Leonard Victor Mitchell was born in Palmerston North, the first child of Leonard Cornwall Mitchell, a well-renowned stamp designer and illustrator, and Victoria Adelaide Cogswell.

Mitchell studied at the Wellington Technical College School of Art, tutored by Frederick Ellis, Head of the Art School (painting and etching), Alex Fraser (sculpture) and Nugent Welch (watercolours).

During World War II he enlist in the army where he was employed guarding Japanese Prisoners of War at Featherston. During this time he produced several drawings of the prisoners, some of which are held by the Alexander Turnbull Library.

After the war, Mitchell returned to the Wellington Technical College to teach life drawing, etching and painting, before travelling to England for a year. Returning to New Zealand, he worked in his father’s commercial art studio and resumed teaching at the Technical College, this time focusing on drawing and printmaking.

Mitchell exhibited regularly at the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, and became a sought after portraitist. He portrayed many prominent New Zealanders including Ngaio Marsh, Walter Nash, Peter McIntyre and Warwick Braithwaite.

In 1954, along with brother Frank and the sculptor Jim Gawn, Mitchell established the Lambton Galleries, an exhibition and studio space at 244 Lambton Quay, Wellington. The Lambton Galleries was the largest commercial gallery in Wellington at the time.

In 1956 Len completed a major public commission - three large canvas murals for the newly built Lower Hutt War Memorial Library, entitled 'Their Sacrifice', 'Preserved Freedom', and 'Human Endeavour.'

He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, London and in 1959 was awarded the Netherlands Government Art Fellowship by the Netherlands Institute for International Cultural Relations. In 1960 he married Patricia Marian Nickalls, and they left for Holland to take up Mitchell’s Fellowship. Later they settled in Coggeshall, Essex, England.

During this time Mitchell made his living largely from commissions on exhibitions at the Paris Salon (1961–1979). He was sponsored into the Société des Artistes Francais, and in June 1971 he was awarded the Gold Medal (Médaille d'Or) at the Paris Salon. That same year he was awarded the Gold Medal (Médaille d'Or) from the Royal Society of Watercolour Painters, London.

See also:

Leonard Victor Mitchell, ‘Their Sacrifice’ (1956), War Memorial Library, Te Awa Kairangi ki Tai Lower Hutt

Image: Bronwyn Holloway-Smith, Public Art Heritage Aotearoa New Zealand, 2022