Saturday October 5 2019

This month’s books show us two artists at work in the field of book illustration. Edward Lear is now probably best known to us as master of the Limerick and the inventor or a great deal of  nonsense rhyme (The Owl and the Pussycat, The Jumblies, The Pobble who has no Toes). He was a musician and composer, setting a number of nineteenth-century  verses (especially those of Tennyson who he particularly admired) to piano accompaniment. Lear was  also a talented artist and his skill is represented by the painting, The Pines at Ravenna, which  hangs above the piano in The Red House drawing room. Britten and Pears also collected several books  by and about Lear, including his Journal of a Landscape Painter in Corsica, a fully illustrated  account of the artist’s journey in the Mediterranean in the late 1860s.

Edward Lear, Journal of a Landscape Painter in Corsica.

Edward Lear, Journal of a Landscape Painter in Corsica. Forty wood-engraved plates and forty wood-engraved illustrations, all from originals by Edward Lear, by J.D. Cooper, Pibaraud, Pegard, Pannemaker and Badoureau. London: Robert Bush, 32 Charing Cross, 1870

Lear made a number of foreign expeditions at the outset of his career, with the express purpose of capturing landscape in its variety. He travelled to Italy in the mid-1840s and to Egypt, Greece and Ceylon at the end of the decade. This volume resulted from his visit to Corsica in 1868 and includes sketches, rather than the wash illustrations he often produced during his earlier journeys. Lear’s romantic depictions of the Corsican countryside would not look out of place in any Gothic novel and are full of atmosphere and drama. For this publication the sketches were drawn onto wood and then cut by professional engravers.

English Scottish and Welsh Landscape

English Scottish and Welsh Landscape 1700-c.1860 chosen by John Betjeman and Geoffrey Taylor, with original lithographs by John Piper. London: Frederick Muller Ltd, 1944

This volume is part of the New Excursions into English Poetry series (edited by W.J. Turner and Sheila Shannon). Each anthology concentrates on what might be called neo-Romantic themes. Sea Poems, Sleep and Death, Poems of Death, The Poet’s Eye were some of the other published titles, each one fusing poetry of all periods with the work of a contemporary artist. Piper’s keen eye represents nature brilliantly throughout the book in a number of moods. Here he depicts the Oxfordshire countryside – where he, his wife Myfanwy and their children made their home. This twilight view of Stonesfield captures part of the contemplative mood, ‘the retirèd ground,’ of Matthew Arnold’s melancholic Scholar Gypsy.

John Piper’s professional association with Britten began with his designs for the sets and costumes  for the opera The Rape of Lucretia at Glyndebourne in 1946 and continued until the composer’s final opera, Death in Venice of 1973. Piper’s work can also be seen in The Red House –  and in books here in the Library. His fascination with the countryside is manifest in the  lithographs produced for a volume of verse about English, Scottish and Welsh landscape. The book is  part of a series of poetry anthologies published in the early 1940s. Each one focussed on a certain  theme and featured lithographs by modern artists. Other illustrators in the series included Michael  Ayrton, Robert Colquhoun, Mona Moore, William Scott and John Craxton.