An artist and illustrator of consummate draughtsmanship, Edward Ardizzone’s many book illustrations are recognised all over the world.
Though for a time forgotten, resurgent interest in the world of illustration and graphic design in the last 20 years has seen an increased popularity in the work of Ardizzone and his contemporaries Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious, and his work is just now beginning to receive the critical attention it has always deserved.
The Bus Stop – lithograph
Edward Ardizzone was born in 1900 in French Indo-China (now Vietnam). Though his mother was English, his father (who was of Italian descent) was born in Algeria, and so a French national, and worked abroad for the French civil service in the colonies. When Ardizzone was just four or five years old his mother brought him and two siblings to Suffolk to be looked after by their grandmother so that she and her husband could remain in the Far East.
‘troubled voyages at sea’ – an Ardizzone lithograph depicting a crew recovering from a shipwreck
Though just a small boy at the time, the journey to England was to have a strong influence on the content of his later work. Ardizzone’s drawings and lithographs frequently dealt with the maritime themes of harbour scenes and shipmen at work in the docks, and his own series of books on the adventures of the young ‘Tim’ involved their own troubled voyages at sea.
a sketch illustrating Ardizzone’s quiet yet accomplished draughtsmanship
Ardizzone’s artistic predisposition was recognised at an early age: despite receiving very little education in the subject, his teachers encouraged him, and though he initially worked as a clerk from 1919-26 he is said to have constantly ‘doodled a lot on his blotter’ while on the job. Spending his days on paperwork and administration, in the evenings he began to attend classes at the Westminster School of Art, tutored by the Camden Group painter and illustrator Walter Bayes and the figurative artist Bernard Meninsky (the only formal training he would receive throughout his entire career).
Regulars at the ‘Hero’ – lithograph from Ardizzone’s ‘The Local’ suite, a series of images featuring his local pubs and drinking holes
In 1927, Ardizzone finally decided to dedicate his time fully to being an artist. To the utter dismay of his father, he left the security of his employment and by 1929 had had his first work published, illustrating Sheridan Le Fanu’s In a Glass Darkly. The commission was to become the first of the many illustrated texts for which he would be best known, excitedly completed after having lived and dreamt that book for three whole months. In it he established an illustrative style that continued throughout his later work and has endured ever since: each line, thick and generous, was put down with both thoughtfulness and ease, resulting in images that are at once carefree and confident but which retain above all else an empathy with their characters.
The year 1929 also saw Ardizzone’s marriage, the birth of his first child, and (a little under a year later) his first one-man show at the Bloomsbury Gallery, followed by several at the Leger Gallery over the next few years. In 1936 he completed the first part of what would be his defining series of work, the first of the ‘Tim’ books: Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain.
Shelter Scene – wartime lithograph demonstrating Ardizzone’s human touch
The series’ progress was halted, however, with the start of the Second World War and his appointment as an Official War Artist a year later, from whose commission he was eventually released in September 1945. As with his illustrations, Ardizzone’s wartime sketches and paintings concentrated on the human element of the war, often depicting soldiers and officers going about their daily routines or in conversation with one another. His scenes of troops on manoeuvres through bombed out towns or civilians hunkered down in bomb-shelter bunkers are composed with an intimacy and softness that focuses on the characters involved rather then the shadow of the conflict.
wartime sketches and character portraits
Over the next 10 years Ardizzone continued to publish ‘Tim’ books, culminating in the publication of Tim All Alone in 1956 which won the inaugural Kate Greenaway Medal of the Library Association and, some 50 years later, was announced as one of the top ten winning works to receive this accolade. Other famous commissions included illustrations for Clive King’s Stig of the Dump, whose iconic cover art helped place the book alongside the greats of children’s literature to remain on bookshelves ever since.
Ardizzone oil paintings are rare and highly sought after – this nude recently arrived at the gallery
The success of Tim All Alone and the continuation of the series clearly caught the attention of the wider art world as well as that of illustration: in 1967 Ardizzone was commissioned by the Royal Post Office to design birthday greetings telegrams, in 1970 became an elected member of the Royal Academy, and in 1971 was awarded a CBE for his contributions to the world of British art.
Ardizzone’s influence is felt even today amongst modern children’s book illustrators almost as strongly as it was during his lifetime. The famously critical Maurice Sendak, author of the beloved Where the Wild Things Are, wrote in 1967 of a particular series of images that [they are] a charming example of the various and unique abilities of this artist who is possibly the supreme contemporary example of the genuine illustrator. He works easy magic [here]…and these whirlwind-rendered watercolours – that look careless to the dull-minded – are some of his finest.
The Private Bar at the Goat – lithograph
Ardizzone died in 1979, not long after providing his famous illustrations to Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales. He left behind him a wealth of acclaimed artistic work and a significant contribution to the canon of book illustration. His legacy persists through the many publications that remain in print bearing his compassionate imagery.