The house that Jack built

Capital Collections provides a window into Edinburgh Libraries’ Special Collections and gives the public opportunity to view photographs, illustrations and books in a manner that makes them much more accessible to a wider audience. The latest Capital Collections exhibition displays a digitised view of one such special book, ‘The house that Jack built’ brimming with gorgeous, colourful images by the celebrated artist Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886). This book, along with several others by the artist, was created with children in mind and its style became synonymous with Victorian children’s literature, a period considered the ‘golden age’ for this genre of books.

The House that Jack Built, front cover

Despite his relatively short life time, Caldecott’s work is considered to have been transformative in the nature of children’s books and illustration in the Victorian era with his influence still resonating today. Caldecott is considered part of the influential ‘nursery triumvirate’, along with Walter Crane and Kate Greenway. Following the popularity of these authors it became the norm for children’s books to be dominated by image over text.

The work showcased in this exhibition is the first in a collection of books originally published in 1878. The book tells the story of the goings on in and around a country house built by Jack with a myriad of delightful characters making appearances. His illustrations were exercised with a manner of humour and full of life, reflecting his own personality. His images, although often not predominantly meant to make a person laugh, are extremely entertaining and good fun. Stylistically, ‘The house that Jack built’ is written in the form of a cumulative tale. This is when a tale is told by repeating dialogue that builds up to allow the story to progress. As a cumulative tale it does not tell the story of Jack’s house, or even of Jack who built the house, but instead shows how the house is indirectly linked to other things and people, and through this method tells the story of “The man all tattered and torn” and the “Maiden all forlorn” as well as other smaller events, showing how these are interlinked. ‘The house that Jack built’ became a world renowned piece of work, referenced in both political satire and popular culture.

“This is the Cat,
That killed the Rat”
from ‘The house that Jack built’

The Capital Collections exhibition attempts to highlight the brilliance and vibrancy of Caldecott’s work. His ability to express true meaning and subtleties of thought through primarily image and minimal text is something of great admiration and ‘The house that Jack built’ is a perfect example of this. The delightful style and bright colourful images in this book are full of life and can be enjoyed by young and old alike, those with an interest in the history of children’s illustration and those who simply appreciate Caldecott’s artistic style. The exhibition’s accompanying text provides a little more detail into the message of the image and the artist in question, although the images are so detailed and charming that they can be enjoyed and admired just as they are.

Browse all the pages from this delightful Victorian illustrated children’s book on Capital Collections.

Quines Exhibition

Launching next Saturday 7 March on the eve of International Women’s Day is the exciting new exhibition `Quines: poems and textiles in tribute to women of Scotland’ on display across Central Library.

Taking inspiration from Gerda Stevenson’s poetry collection Quines: poems in tribute to women of Scotland celebrating and exploring the richly diverse contribution women have made to Scottish history and society, edge textile artists Scotland members have each selected varied poems from the collection, interpreting them in diverse and inspiring personal ways.

Come to the launch afternoon running 2-4pm Saturday 7 March. Book on Edinburgh Reads to hear Gerda Stevenson reading poems from her collection Quines and take a guided tour led by edge members around the exhibition. Enjoy a cuppa and chat to edge members.

The exhibition is on display on the Mezzanine, on the Staircase and in the Art & Design Library running until Monday 30 March.

 

 

 

LGBT history in the Art & Design Library

February is LGBT History Month and, in the Art & Design Library we’ve been looking at some of our books that explore this rich history and its amazing contribution to the visual arts. All are available for borrowing from the Art & Design Library.

A Queer History of Fashion: from the Closet to the Catwalk edited by Valerie Steele, published 2013.
From Christian Dior to Yves Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen, many of the greatest fashion designers of the past century have been gay. This book looks at the history of fashion through a queer lens, examining high fashion as a site of gay cultural production and exploring the aesthetic sensibilities and unconventional dress of LGBTQ people to demonstrate the centrality of gay culture to the creation of modern fashion.

Art & Queer Culture by Catherine Lord & Richard Meyer, published 2019.
Art & Queer Culture surveys artworks that have constructed, contested, or otherwise responded to alternative forms of sexuality. Rather than focusing exclusively on artists who self-identify as gay or lesbian, the book instead traces the shifting possibilities and constraints of sexual identity that have provided visual artists with a rich creative resource over the last 130 years

A Queer Little History of Art by Alex Pilcher published 2017.
The last century has seen a dramatic shift in gender and sexual identities for both men and women, reflected in a period of artistic experimentation as artists have sought to challenge social conventions and push the boundaries of what has been deemed acceptable. The result is a wealth of deeply emotive and powerful art intended to express a range of desires and experiences but also to question, criticise and provoke dialogue. This book showcases a selection of works which illustrate the breadth and depth of queer art from around the world.

Drawing difference: connections between gender and drawing by Marsha Meskimmon and Phil Sawdon, published 2016.
Drawing Difference’ analyses how both drawing and feminist discourse emphasise dialogue, matter and openness. It demonstrates how sexual difference, subjectivity and drawing are connected at an elemental level – and how drawing has played a vital role in the articulation of the material and conceptual dynamics of feminism.

Queer British Art 1861-1967 edited by Clare Barlow, published 2017.
With a focus just on British queer art, this book has sections on ambivalent sexualities and gender experimentation amongst the Pre-Raphaelites; the science of sexology’s impact on portraiture; queer domesticities in Bloomsbury and beyond; eroticism in the artist’s studio and relationships between artists and models; gender play and sexuality in British surrealism; and love and lust in sixties Soho.

We’ve many more biographies and analyses of works by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender+ identified artists. From Diane Arbus and Francis Bacon to Keith Haring, Gilbert & George and David Hockney, we’ve got them covered. Drop into the Art & Design Library for more information.

February’s Exhibition in the Art and Design Library

The February Exhibition in the Art and Design Library is a group show by two Scottish-based women artists: Barbara Mackie and Rowena Comrie.  Colour in Play is a celebration of their vibrant and striking use of colour to convey landscapes and abstract ideas and emotions.  The exhibition opens on February 3rd.

Rainbow Light by Barbara Mackie

Barbara Mackie is based in Midlothian and first studied painting and drawing at Edinburgh College of Art.  She has participated in numerous exhibitions including group and solo shows at the Scottish Arts Club, Riccio Gallery and West Dean College in London.  “There is both abstraction and representation in my work that I refer to more as ‘settings’ than landscapes. There are traces of skies, coastline, valleys, mountains, farmland and fenland for these are memories carried from the various places I have know or seen, part referenced, part imagined. The nature of my work can be bold and yet restrained in both colour and form.”

Subaqua by Rowena Comrie

Rowena Comrie has worked as a professional artist for the past 30 years; in January 2010 she relocated from Aberdeen to Glasgow where she now works from a WASPS studio in Glasgow’s Briggait. She was born in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, and in 1982 completed her BA(Hons) in Fine Art at Reading University where she embraced expressionist colourfield painting with confidence and passion.

She continues to develop this dramatic and emotive painting style saying: “I make these works from a specific aesthetic point, that personally expresses sublime elements of human experiences. Over many years I have refined and developed my technique, a process that continues to challenge and intrigue“.

The exhibition is open throughout February and runs until 28th.

A Day in a Child’s Life

Tucked away backstage, in a room in Central Library, is a copy of Kate Greenaway’s A Day in a Child’s Life. It’s an illustrated children’s song book with page after page of quaint colour wood engravings from the 19th century (the book was first published in 1881).

‘A Day in a Child’s Life’, an illustrated children’s song book

The pictures are quintessentially delicate and gentle. They skip along, lightly, gracefully; and every child that Kate Greenaway drew – and she drew many all through the book –  she drew them in historical costume, historical costume for the time, that is. The costumes date from decades before, from the early 19th century and Regency-era.

Playtime, an illustrated page from ‘A Day in a Child’s Life’

Kate Greenaway’s mother owned a millinery shop in Islington and the shop later developed into a ladies’ outfitters. Kate Greenaway, not unsurprisingly, learnt to sew, and she began to make the costumes for her child models to wear. Her illustrations were such a success that Liberty’s, the London department store, even introduced a line of children’s clothing based on them.

Behind the millinery shop was a garden, which as a child Kate Greenaway spent many hours in, and her pictures, as well as featuring children, feature flowers. Flowers drawn with thought and detail, picked and placed like a florist might for the best composition. Slim-leaved daffodils look particularly tall and upright beside a line of standing children, hands behind their backs; and in another illustration, big-faced sunflowers stand like shining suns to either side of a child (who has a head of golden curls) and is just about to wake up…  There was big public interest in flowers in Victorian times, floral dictionaries were enjoying a boom, and a few years later, in 1884, Kate Greenaway’s own The Language of Flowers became very popular.

Introductory image for ‘A Day in a Child’s Life’, an illustrated children’s song book

In terms of its production, A Day in a Child’s Life, was at the forefront of Victorian printing. It was engraved and printed by Edmund Evans, (who printed books by other illustration greats including Walter Crane and Randolph Caldecott). He was pre-eminent in his work, pushing forward printing technologies by using a woodblock technique known as chromoxylography, and printing toy books and picture books that filled the floors of Victorian nurseries. It was also Edmund Evans’ nephew, Miles Birket Foster, who wrote the music for the song book.

Kate Greenaway, who has given her name to our own contemporary illustration award, the Kate Greenaway Medal, has been an influential figure in illustration. The artist and critic John Ruskin wrote of her:

“The fairyland that she creates for you is not beyond the sky nor beneath sea, but near you, even at your own doors. She does but show you how to see it”.

They were friends, John Ruskin and Kate Greenaway, and their correspondence with each other lasted until Ruskin’s death in 1900.

Do have a look on our Capital Collections exhibition to browse over more of these wonderful pictures.

Paranormalise Me, Please

The first exhibition of 2020, Paranormalise Me, Please with artworks by Isaac Benjamin opened on 6th January in the Art and Design Library.

Untitled by Isaac Benjamin

Untitled by Isaac Benjamin

Isaac Benjamin is an Edinburgh-based artist who works across media including photography, painting and drawing. His new work is a representation of paranormal experiences. As an artist, he has previously explored his own personal struggles with severe mental health issues including delusional hallucinations and paranoia. Having found a sense of stability after a period of struggle, his work engages with the perceived dichotomies, parallels and divergences between issues related to mental health and paranormal experiences. He questions the common perception that otherworldly experiences are merely one aspect on the spectrum of hallucinations. This is Isaac’s second solo show.

The exhibition runs until 31st January.

Some of our favourite books of 2019 (continued)

We asked colleagues to share with us the book they’d most enjoyed this past year.

Jen from the Art and Design Library chose Edward Ardizzone: Artist and Illustrator by Alan Powers.

“I was asked what library book I’ve enjoyed most this year and could I write about it, just a paragraph. To begin with this stumped me. It’s a tricky question – with a superlative in it too (what about all those other books?)… and then I thought of Alan Powers’ Edward Ardizzone: Artist and Illustrator. Sometimes, some things, just really are good.

It’s a large book, from the Art & Design Library.

Little Tim’s on the cover looking out to sea (at something, what is it? Not the ship). The book wouldn’t even need to be well written for me to be excited about it. There wouldn’t need to be many pictures, even one picture would do, even if it was in black and white (Ardizzone really could handle a pen, and that irksome material, black ink). But, of course, it isn’t. There are lots of pictures, lots in colour, and there are little gems throughout: unknown early commissions, men in pubs, things happening in streets, in parks. Always there’s a lightness – his pen is so loose and free, and just in the right place – and there it is, the moment is perfectly caught.

Edward Ardizzone (1900 – 1979), was an artist and illustrator, a biggie in 20th century illustration. The first of his Little Tim books was published in 1936; he also illustrated many contemporary writers (Eleanor Farjeon, Robert Graves). He drew illustrations for Walter de la Mare’s Peacock Pie, for magazines and advertising, and for the classics – to illustrate Dickens, Bunyan, Cervantes.

The book was published in 2016 alongside a retrospective exhibition held by the House of Illustration in London. It covers Ardizzone’s biographical story (he was also a war artist – have a look at the library catalogue for his war diaries…), mid-century illustration and illustration practice (book production, printing). And about illustration itself, Ardizzone is fascinating, and assertive. He particularly prized visual memory, and the art of making it all up. Illustration is about an imaginary world for Ardizzone. An illustrator,

‘creates a visual world, which looks real and which can be believed in. Yet it is not the real world but, like the author’s, a fiction.’
(p.179, quoting Ardizzone, The Born Illustrator, p.37).

This is a book for picture lovers, and book lovers. I thoroughly recommend it.”

Maybe 2020 could be the year to discover or revisit the treasure trove and book lover’s haven that is the Art and Design Library? Tucked away in a top corner of Central Library, you’ll find a feast of books, old and new on every aspect of art, craft and design to inspire and captivate.

Read more staff reading recommendations from 2019.