Most widely known for his archaeologically informed visual reconstructions of early historical settlements which did much to popularise historic sites and buildings, Alan Sorrell (1904-1974) worked in a variety of artistic disciplines from large scale murals to book illustrations, as well as a period as a commercial artist after the First World War.

Sorrell originally trained as a fine artist at Southend Municipal School of Art before going on to study at the Royal College of Art (1924-27) after which he was awarded the Prix de Rome for mural painting and spent the next three years at the British School in Rome. In 1931 he was invited by the RCA Principal, William Rothenstein, to take up the post of Senior Assistant Instructor in drawing at the College which he retained until 1948. His first commission was a series of mural panels on historic themes (1932-36), including Admiral Drake’s Fleet Refitting at Leigh, 1652 for Southend Municipal Library. His keen eye for historical accuracy was recognised in a commission for The Illustrated London News in 1937 to collaborate with the archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon on a drawn reconstruction of the Roman Fort at Leicester. He collaborated with a number of other archaeologists, including Mortimer Wheeler, in other drawn historical reconstructions of sites in Britain and mainland Europe, ranging from Avebury and Stonehenge, Roman and Viking settlements and medieval monasteries. Also in the 1930s he produced a small number of posters for London Transport, including To the River (1938).

During the Second World War Sorrel volunteered for the RAF but was transferred as a Camouflage Officer to the Air Ministry in 1941. He made drawings and paintings of camp life, a number of which were purchased by the War Artists Advisory Committee, chaired by Sir Kenneth Clark, including Southampton Docks (1944) and Up in the Morning Early: RAF Camp 1941(1942), both in Tate Gallery collection. After the War Sorrell continued to produce murals, including The Seasons for Warwick Oken School (1949–50) and a maritime mural by Sorrell in the Festival Ship the Campania which toured around British ports as part of the Festival of Britain in 1951.

He illustrated many of books, including Latinum. A reader for the first stage of Latin (1940), English Churches (1956), Living History (1965), Age by Age: Landmarks of British Archaeology (1967), Prehistoric Britain (1968), Roman London (1969) Imperial Rome (1970) and British Castles (1973). A number of books published by Lutterworth were widely used in schools.