Saturday, July 18, 2015
Primal light: Illustration of the month
My illustration this month comes from a book published in 1921, Highways and Byways in Sussex, written by E. V. Lucas. I’ve chosen what I think is one of the most evocative of the illustrations, a study of the church and churchyard at Amberley, by F. L. Griggs.
Etcher, illustrator, conservationist, and Arts and Crafts movement leader Frederick Landseer Maur Griggs (1876–1938) grew up in Hertfordshire, went to the Slade, and settled eventually in Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds. There he became a member of the local group of Arts and Crafts luminaries, such as the architects Norman Jewson and Ernest Gimson, and he made etchings inspired by Cotswold architecture and landscape and did illustrations for several of Macmillan's Highways and Byways books. He was an enthusiast for the work of the great 19th-century English artist Samuel Palmer, making prints of some of Palmer's etchings, and becoming, in this and in his original work, a kind of creative bridge between Palmer and the British Neo-Romantic artists of the 20th century – Piper, Sutherland, John Minton, and so on.
The illustration I've chosen from Highways and Byways in Sussex shows Griggs' mastery of atmosphere. The artist faces the evening sun, which is already quite low in the sky, and which throws much of the church and the nearby trees into shadow while also catching the roof and the side of the tower and bathing them in light. The sun also highlights the edges of the gravestones, helping to define their curved tops.
When we look more closely, it's clear that there's a huge amount of delicate detail in the illustration too. Although this is not one of Griggs' images that delineates every stone of every wall, quite a lot of masonry at the right-hand end of the church is picked out clearly, as is the metalwork of the narrow lancet window. The areas in deep shadow also have a lovely texture – Griggs was good at shadows, as another illustration I posted some time ago also shows.
More than this, the light bathing the scene works on all kinds of levels. The westerly sun's pervasive rays suggest the warmth of a summer evening – that golden hour that photographers and film-makers love. This warm light makes dramatic forms of the building and trees, encouraging us look anew at the dark shape of the left-hand tree, the ragged outline of the tree by the chancel, and above all the extraordinarily long slope of the roof. We know it won't look quite like this for long – the sun will soon be down and the sense of an ending hangs about the image. Yet it's not quite the end: we know that the sun will rise once more, illuminating the dark eastern wall, and making us look again anew.
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Note The image file is at a slightly higher resolution than usual, and I hope this enables readers to see some of the detail in the picture by clicking on it. Apologies to those for whom this makes the image slow to appear on screen.