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In my last post (September 25, 2021) I talked about my great love for Laurie Lee’s first memoir Cider With Rosie. And in that little essay I mentioned my granddaughter’s question about my favorite novel. (One day, I will answer her.)
Subsequent to publication, being one of my avid followers and an exceptional artist in her own right, she asked me a follow-up query about the book’s illustrator. It was a great point, which led to some back and forth between us online. Thanks to her then, here is a follow-up post.
Since I am a huge fan of book illustration (see some of my earlier posts), I should have mentioned the artist, especially as he actually illustrated one of the descriptive scenes I included in that last post. Here is the passage again for those who missed it:
Laurie “goes on to talk about their common room, the kitchen where they spent their waking life and growing years (p. 75-76):
‘That kitchen, worn by our boots and lives, was scruffy, warm and low, whose fuss of furniture seemed never the same but was shuffled around each day. A black grate crackled with coal and beech-twigs; towels toasted on the guard; the mantel was littered with fine old china, horse brasses and freak potatoes. On the floor were strips of muddy matting, the windows were choked with plants, the walls supported stopped clocks and calendars, and smoky fungus ran over the ceiling. There were also six tables of different sizes, some armchairs gapingly stuffed, boxes, stools and unravelling baskets, books and papers on every chair, a sofa for the cats, a harmonium for coats, and a piano for dust and photographs. These were the shapes of our kitchen landscape, the rocks of our submarine life, each object worn smooth by constant nuzzling, or encrusted by lively barnacles, relics of birthdays and dead relations, wrecks of furniture long since foundered, all silted deep by mother’s newspapers which the years piled round on the floor.’”
Here are two illustrations of the kitchen in my 1959 Hogarth Press edition, which really capture that description:
The illustrator is John Ward (1917-2007). The book jacket says his “gifted and imaginative drawings are the perfect complement to this memorable and enchanting book.” I couldn’t agree more.
Since I knew nothing about Mr. Ward, I checked him out on the internet. Wikipedia, my go-to source for all things, describes him as an English portrait artist, teacher, landscape painter and illustrator for both books and magazines (Vogue), whose establishment subjects included British royalty (e. g. Princess Anne and Princess Diana in her wedding dress), politicians and celebrities. He was apparently quite successful: fifteen of his paintings hang in the British National Portrait Gallery. See this link for more details.
An excellent obituary in the Guardian (Simon Fenwick, International edition, June 21, 2007), described the artist as being “principled, clubbable, rather courtly and a prolific letter writer… an Edwardian figure.” He had high standards, prizing good draughtsmanship, but was quite intolerant of other artists who “did not share his way of thinking.” Being very much a traditionalist, he resigned from the Royal Academy of Art (along with three other members) to protest the controversial 1997 Sensation art exhibition and never rejoined (source).
For a very short video on John Ward, check out this one-minute promotional trailer by APV Films on his water colors.
Finally, here is the alluring Rosie, as mentioned in the book’s title: