Illustration has Gripped the Nation by Sarah Butler

Your last chance to see this excellent exhibition which showcases the work of major post-war British illustrators such as Edward Bawden and Edward Ardizzone, as well as contemporary illustrators inspired by the era. Sarah Butler tells us more.

Illustration has gripped the nation…well, The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery at least! The exhibition,  Nostalgia & Progress: Illustration After the Second World War marks the third instalment in the Gallery’s popular occasional series exploring the history of printing techniques and British book illustration, closes on 28th February.

Bawden, Ardizzone, Keeping, Dulac, Searle, Hearld, Sutton, the show is a veritable (and visual) feast of big names from the world of illustration both old and new. Over one hundred framed works, ranging from monochrome linocuts through to detailed ink drawings and candy-coloured kitsch screenprints adorn the walls in vibrant constellations.

Whilst technological advances may have changed the way some present-day illustrations have been produced, for example, Matthew the Horse has used an inkjet printer to create his lively Houseplant series, clearly, many of the contemporary artists have been inspired by their illustrious, illustrator forebears. Alice Pattullo’s lithograph Whitby Whaling, for example, echoes Edward Bawden’s 1950s Brighton Pier both in its jaunty style and seaside subject matter. The shadowy palate favoured by Charles Keeping for his sinister literary illustrations in the 1970s is referenced in Ed Kluz’s brooding images of historical buildings drawn on scraperboard.

 

Edmund Dulac, She Was Like a Lily Among Many Coloured Flowers, November 1952 – May 1953, watercolour on paper © The Estate of the Artist

Edmund Dulac, She Was Like a Lily Among Many Coloured Flowers, November 1952 – May 1953, watercolour on paper © The Estate of the Artist

I also find it fascinating how, sixty years on, some illustrators are still employing traditional media and techniques to produce their work. Emily Sutton uses jewel-hued watercolours in her charming book covers in a similar way to Edmund Dulac, who was at his peak in the 1950s. Sutton proves that illustrations are not just for children’s books with her vivacious, foliage-bordered book cover for Waugh’s A Handful of Dust whilst the doe-eyed, gently swaying beauties in Dulac’s She Was Like a Lily Among Many Coloured Flowers have a coy yet exotic sensuality that captivates the viewers’ attention.

 

Emily Sutton, A Handful of Dust, 2014, ink and watercolour on paper © The Artist

Emily Sutton, A Handful of Dust, 2014, ink and watercolour on paper © The Artist

The diversity of the illustrators’ commissions is further exemplified by Kluz’s cover for Patrick Leigh Fermor’s The Broken Road. Here, the watery yellows and smooth icy blues are a world away from the scratchy black Chiswick House. Edward Bawden was also a chameleon when it came to context as evidenced by the bold pink and yellow hotel Christmas Eve (1954) menu card, greyscale recipe booklet and line drawing front cover of a 1961 edition of The Listener which he designed and are on rare display. 

With so much delectable artwork to appreciate and book titles to add to your ‘Must Read’ list, I guarantee you’ll need more than one visit! Hurry, you have less than 2 weeks!!

You can find out about the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery here and buy the exhibition catalogue here.

Fiona Gell

Fiona is a lifelong reading enthusiast and book lover. Her career started as a bookseller and has never really veered away from the written and spoken word. It was a dream for her to be a founder member of The Leeds Big Bookend. Fiona is its Coordinator and Marketing Director of the Northern Short Story Festival.

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