Arnold Machin

From humble beginnings as a potteries apprentice Arnold Machin rose to become an acclaimed sculptor creating the iconic bas-relief portrait of Her Majesty the Queen used on all Royal Mail definitive issue stamps.

Patricia Machin

Patricia Machin was born in 1921 and studied painting at Goldsmith's where her tutor was Leonard Applebee. Finding inspiration from the Old Masters and still-life, she was an established painter, illustrator, designer and author.

Francis Machin

Architect, sculptor, businessman and painter, Francis Machin was a talented designer responsible for a range of conservatories and garden buildings still seen throughout the United Kingdom, United States and Europe.

A recent edition of the BBC programme, 'Songs of Praise', looked at some of the religious works produced by Machin in his life. It is evident from the volume of religious works, from his earliest period at the Royal College of Art to the end of his life, that he never wavered from his religious beliefs. His more significant works were produced in the 1940s' and early 1950s' where his feelings about the war and conflict were at their strongest.

Machin was a conscientious objector, and while almost certainly not fit for any military duty he refused to attend his medical on receiving his call-up papers. This resulted in a conviction and a sentence to 12 months imprisonment at Wormwood Scrubs, of which he served 9 months. After leaving prison he did attend a medical at which, as expected, his poor health meant he was not fit for service. Later in his life when Machin reflected on his prison sentence he was clear that he felt an obligation to refuse to attend the medical on account of his beliefs and then to accept the law of the land. To attend the medical in full knowledge that he would fail seemed to him to be dishonourable. During the war years he worked as a designer for Wedgewood and also as a volunteer working with the homeless in London.

A well known example of his work from the 40s' was purchased by the Tate. The bust of St. John the Baptist, shown here in side view, is unusual in portraying St. John as a child and with a halo.

While in prison Victor Skellern, the Design Director at Wedgewood, wrote to Machin "... Today we have had Mr John Rothenstein the Director of the Tate Gallery as a visitor. We showed him your works, terra-cottas etc., and he was very impressed, so much that I took him up to the Lea to see some of your other works. Mrs Tom very kindly took him around. He liked your St. John very much indeed and said that subject to the approval of the Trustees he would like to purchase it for the Tate". [ Mrs Tom is a reference to the wife of Tom Wedgewood, often referred to by the staff as Mr Tom; the Lea was Machin's studio which the Wedgewood family generously let him use ]









In 1956 Machin was elected a member of the Royal Academy of Arts. This was a great honour and tremendously important to him, it marked the point where his career as a sculptor started to develop. A condition of election is for the artist to present a piece of their work, and he chose to present this sculpture.

It is typical of his style, less than a metre in height and constructed entirely from terra-cotta clay. Machin had developed his own methods for constructing these sculptures avoiding the use a metal armature, often used to provide support in clay models. He used discarded newspaper, crumpled and slightly wet to create an internal support and built the clay in layers around the paper base. The paper was removed once the sculpture was completed, prior to firing. Terra-cotta gave Machin great freedom in expression and allowed him to produce finely detailed sculptures. Here the folds of the dress, adornments and wings are exquisitely modelled. Machin often stated that only with terra-cotta could he satisfactorily create the depth of detail he considered essential. 


In late 1998 Machin wrote:

"As I reach the end of a long fulfilling life I continue to work to the very best of my ability, but I also have time to meditate a little more - on the past, on the future and on death. Anna Kingsford, that great mystic, was deeply religious and yet she said just before dying, 'They all philosophise about the end, but I've never met anyone who wants to go'. We are all afraid of the unknown"

Machin subscribed to the opinion expressed by the playwright Alan Ayckbourn, 'All great Art comes from people who recognise that there is something higher than themselves'. Throughout his life his thoughts and aspirations had been influenced by writers who acknowledged this great truth.



Machin found the 'Mystical doctrine of St. John of the Cross' devastatingly beautiful, particularly the 'Spiritual Canticle' in which St. John describes the desire for the full possession of God.

My Beloved is the mountains,
The solitary wooded valleys,
The strange islands,
The roaring torrents,
The whisper of the amorous gales;

 The tranquil night
At the approached of dawn,
The silent music,
The murmuring solitude,
The supper which revives, and enkindles love.

Oh! who can heal me ?
Give me at once Thyself,
Send me no more
a messenger
Who cannot tell me what I wish

Quench Thou my troubles,
For no one else can soothe them;
And let mine eye behold Thee,
For Thou art their light,
And I will keep them for Thee alone

Reveal Thy presence,
And let Thy vision and Thy beauty kill me.
Behold the malady
Of love is incurable
Except in Thy presence and before Thy face.


Drawing: 'One Last and Sad Farewell' from Dante's Inferno - Arnold Machin 1998

Probably his last work, Arnold Machin died on March 9th 1999

From humble beginnings as a potteries apprentice Arnold Machin rose to become an acclaimed sculptor creating the iconic bas-relief portrait of Her Majesty the Queen used on all Royal Mail definitive issue stamps.

When Queen Elizabeth II came to the throne in 1952, Mary Gillick designed a head depicting the Queen as a young woman to be used on the coinage. In readiness for decimalisation in the late nineteen sixties when the Queen would be forty, the Government had been planning to change the coinage. It was a good opportunity to produce a new effigy of Her Majesty and in 1962 a competition was launched to find a suitable design.

Read more...

In November 1965 another competition was initiated by the Royal Mail to produce a new definitive postage stamp. Since 1952 the portrait of the Queen used on stamps had been a three-quarter photograph by Dorothy Wilding, but stamp designers found this difficult to fit in with other images on larger commemorative stamps, and so a new profile was required. Five artists were invited to participate, including Arnold.

Read more...

On discovering that Pat was pregnant, the couple needed to find a suitable house to live in, and they bought a house at The Villas in Stoke. Arnold used a long, narrow greenhouse for his studio, and Pat had a room at the top of the house as hers. They made Stoke their base, and Arnold would drive down weekly to London where he kept his small studio on. Their son, Francis, was born in November 1949.

Read more...