Sunday, August 19, 2012

Badmin's England (1)

When I'm not actually looking at buildings or reading about them, I often seem to find myself looking at pictures of them. One of the artists whose work I have admired for longest is S R Badmin (1906–89), a British painter whose artistic responses to landscape were celebrated because of their clarity, detail, and sensitivity to the character of places – and because they were much used to illustrate the covers of magazines such as the Radio Times and British editions of the Reader's Digest. I first came across Badmin as the illustrator of the Shell Guide to Trees and Shrubs, a classic of the 1950s. But I didn't realise until later that the hand that could delineate both arboreal verdure and the architecture of branches and twigs was also at home with actual architecture. If Badmin was brilliant at trees, he was also rather good at buildings.

The books that brought this home to me were two that Badmin illustrated for the children's series Picture Puffins – Sir George Stapledon's Farm Crops in Britain (which includes a striking depiction of an upland northern farm – and the lovely book Village and Town, which Badmin both wrote and illustrated. Here are a couple of illustrations from Village and Town, a book that is much concerned with the ways in which traditional architecture varies from place to place.

A Timber, Plaster and Thatch Village, from Village and Town

These villagescapes are generic: they don't, I think, represent specific places, but bring together examples of the building types and styles of particular areas of England. This first is titled "A timber, plaster and thatch village". It is of a place somewhere in eastern England – in Essex, perhaps, or the eastern part of Hertfordshire – where the lack of good local stone meant that people used timber for framing and thatch for roofs. In some of the houses, the timber frameworks have been left exposed, but in many buildings the frame is hidden behind a coat of plaster, which is sometimes coloured pale pink, sometimes, as in the house on the left, white and decorated with the moulded patterns known as pargetting. Some of the buildings – such as the shed or small barn in the foreground and the church tower in the distance – are boarded, and the tower is topped with a kind of splay-footed spire found quite widely in the south and east. If there is any stone, it's flint, as in the flint and brick wall next to the pargetted house.

 A Brick and Tile Village, from Village and Town

The other picture shows "A brick and tile village" and must be in Sussex or Kent, another area where there is not much good stone (though, again, there is some flint, as in the wall behind the pigs), but where there is plentiful clay for brick- and tile-making. Some houses are brick-walled, some have timber frames with brick filling the gaps between the timbers, and some have tile-hung upper storeys. Other wall finishes on display include weatherboarding, this time painted white, as is the stucco-fronted shop towards the top of the street.

These two illustrations wonderfully show how use of local building materials gave places in different parts of the country their own visual character. But they also show what is less often noticed: that vernacular and traditional architecture are not just about materials but also concern local fashions and aesthetic preferences. The timber, plaster and thatch village shows a love of plaster decoration that is much more common in eastern England than in the Midlands or west. The close-set vertical timbers of the central building – apparently now a pub – are another visual feature common in the eastern counties. In the brick and tile village, on the other hand, delight has been taken in the patterns of hung tiles and the clean lines of white-painted boarding. All these features, from the plasterwork to the white boarding, show local visual sensibilities at work. People in past centuries were not slaves to their materials and made aesthetic choices just as we do – and S R Badmin clearly realised this too.


bazza said...

These look like idealised generic views to me and are the kind of paintings I loved as a child because of the great amount of detail they contained. They are very romantic and, for me, epitomise the 1950s.
I wonder if he made any London Transport posters?
Click here for Bazza’s Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Stephen Barker said...

The background of Norman Thelwell's comic drawings contain a wealth of detail of the english countryside and architecture in the post war period up to the 1960's. He is very good on trees in wintertime.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Bazza: Yes, I think he did do work for London Transport.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Stephen: Gosh, yes. I will have to look at Thelwell with a new eye.

Luke Honey said...

Thanks for this. I love S R Badmin too. Lucky enough to have a watercolour by him of a Glasgow shipyard hanging in the hall.

I've been trying to collect the full set of Picture Puffin's for years, primarily because of the wonderful chromolithography. Badmin's cover for "Trees of Britain", in particular.

The first Badmin cover you posted does remind me very much of those villages in Essex, like Castle Hedingham. One in particular- whose name I've forgotten, has the same undulating slopes, or hills, with the village green in the centre. Doesn't poor Essex suffer from an awful reputation, when in fact the northern parts of the county are rather lovely?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Luke: Thank you for your comment. The place in Essex that the first Badmin illustration reminds me of most is Finchingfield, which has a similar green and slope, but into which Badmin has imported different buildings.

You are fortunate to have a Badmin watercolour. I have not collected the Picture Puffins – I only have one or two, including the lovely Badmin one on Trees. I intend to look out for more.

Luke Honey said...

Hi Philip

Finchingfield! Yes, that was it. The Badmin illustration definitely reminded me of that village.

You'll find that you can get many of the Picture Puffins relatively cheaply, but the very early examples (propoganda for the Second World War) are expensive- and very rare. There's something very evocative about the soft, rich, chromolithography of the period-which reminds me of the Powell & Pressburger films...The Red Shoes and the like...

Clarke Hutton is another illustrator in this genre- did a wonderful series of children's history books for Oxford Univ Press. I expect you have already come across him.

Neil said...

I'm sure you're right about the idealised, generalised nature of the views, but having seen Badmin's sketchbooks, you can be sure that every element was beautifully observed from life. I think you can tell from his work what a very typically English man of his time he was, modest, unassertive, yet quite confident in his own abilities.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Luke: Yes, I like Clarke Hutton. You might be amused by a post I did about carousels, here, which features Hutton's lovely cover for the King Penguin Popular English Art.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Neil: Yes, Badmin seems to have been just the kind of character you describe. His illustrations, even if they are of made up scenes, are more about the English countryside than they are about the artist, if you see what I mean.