Little Tim lived in a house by the sea.
He wanted very much to be a sailor.
When it was fine he spent the day on the beach playing in and out of the boats, or talking to his friend the old boatman, who taught him how to make the special knots that sailors make and many other things about the sea and ships.
Sometimes Tim would astonish his parents by saying, ‘That’s a Cunarder’ or ‘Look at that barquentine on the port bow’.
So begins ‘Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain’, which, together with ‘Diana and Her Rhinoceros’ and ‘The Little Girl and the Tiny Doll’ was one of my favourite picture books when I was a child. I loved his cross hatching technique and his use of speech bubbles that added another layer to his stories.
Edward Ardizzone’s work occupied a large space in my childhood reading. One of my earliest memories is of my father reading me Nurse Matilda, written by Ardizzone’s cousin Christianna.
In the 1960s and 1970s it was quite hard to avoid his drawing, as he was extraordinarily prolific, illustrating many of my beloved Puffin books for other authors, in addition to his own writing. Eleanor Farjeon’s ‘the Little Bookroom’, ‘The Otterbury Incident’ by C Day Lewis and ‘Stig of the Dump’ by Clive King are just a few favourite books in which his line drawings complement the story. His illustrations also make the perfect match for E Nesbit’s beautifully written collection of childhood reminiscences “Long Ago When I was Young’, published in 1966 by Robert Whiting &Wheaton.
As I grew up Ardizzone’s influence was woven into the fabric of my life in unexpected ways: On holiday in Bath, my mother bought me a proof version of an illustration by Ardizzone, only to discover at home the original Harvey’s wine catalogue from which it came: it must have belonged to my late father. My Uncle fought in the Second World War in the Reconnaissance Corps, and on going through his things I was astonished to discover that the rather dull looking black and white Reconnaissance Corps magazines had illustrations inside by Ardizzone. One of my favourite pieces of ephemera is a booklet he produced for Guinness called ‘Game Pie: a Guiness indoor Sportfolio’.
Ardizzone recently had a retrospective exhibition at the House of Illustration in Granary Square. I love the space, which is small and intimate, where I saw the exhibition celebrating the work of E H Shepherd last year. The exhibition included his extraordinary body of work depicting life on the front line in the First World War. As I knew him best as the creator of the sublime illustrations for Winnie the Pooh and the Wind in the Willows, I found this side of his life extremely moving. Similarly, the Ardizzone exhibition gave an insight into the many different aspects to his career: I was particularly interested in learning more about the four years he spent as a war artist during the Second World War. The exhibition displayed paintings, drawings and letters home from this period. Sir Kenneth Clark, Director of the National Gallery at this time, set up the War Artists’ Advisory Scheme, with the aim of drawing up
‘a list of artists qualified to record the war at home and abroad. In co-operation with the Services Departments, and other Government Departments…to advise on the selection of artists on this list for war purposes and on the arrangements for their employment’.
‘I wanted (a war artist) who could show the earthy part: what military life was really like”. Ardizzone made over 400 works, depicting the home guard, the desert war, officers off duty and life in Southern Italy.
Paul Johnson, in an article for the Spectator, in which he celebrates ‘the Michaelangelo of the Maida Vale pub’ explains:
‘He did many hundreds of on-the-spot sketches, often within sound of the guns and in peril of his life, but he also recorded camp and barrack life and the roistering which went on between the fighting. His drawings form a true record of a great part of the war. He was on duty almost from the beginning, in training, in France before and during the collapse in 1940, in London during the Blitz, in North Africa for the final defeat of Rommel’s Afrika Korps, in the Sicily invasion, the campaign in Italy, the Operation Overlord invasion of France and the conquest and occupation of Germany.’
In 1973, on his 70th birthday, in reply to a telegram he received from Ardizzone, Sir Kenneth Clark thanks his friend for the pleasure his drawings have given him:
‘The invention, the humanity and the flowing composition and in general the sweet picture of life you have created’.
Ardizzone made money in the early days from illustrating book jackets, and went on to design restaurant menus, birthday telegrams, and covers for Punch and the Strand Magazine, in addition to his prolific career as a children’s book writer and illustrator. The exhibition even had on loan from the P & O heritage collection, a wonderful mural, made in 1961 for the first class playroom of ocean liner SS Canberra, depicting a scene from Treasure Island.
Unlike contemporaries including Edward Bawden and Barnett Freedman, Ardizzone is thought to have his roots in the 18th and 19th century tradition of Rowlandson and Cruickshank. (i recommend the fascinating interview in the Guardian between Joanna Carey and his daughter Christianna Clemmence: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2000/jan/04/educationalbooks).
In a short video at the House of Illustration exhibition, Shirley Hughes admires Ardizzone’s skill in making the reader want to inhabit the story. There is nothing flat about his painting. I knew this instinctively from the moment I saw the little girl reaching for the tiny doll in the deep freeze all those years ago.
Edward Ardizzone: Artist and Illustrator, Alan Powers, Lund Humphries, 2016
The Young Ardizzone: an autobiographical fragment, Edward Ardizzone, first published by Studio Visa in 1970, and reissued in 2013 by Slightly Foxed editions.
Edward Ardizzone, Diary of a War Artist, The Bodley Head, 1974
Sketches for Friends, Edward Ardizzone, published by John Murray, 2000
My Father and Ardizzone: a Lasting Friendship, illustrated with Ardizonne Christmas cards, Edward Booth-Clibborn, Patrick Hardy Books, 1983