Plats du Jour by Patience Gray and Primrose Boyd is a book illustrated by a 27-year-old David Gentleman in 1957 used to be everywhere, I would see it in most charity shops and on book stalls, however now if you look online and try to find a copy it is about £30 and up. The Persephone Press reissued it it in 2006 with the original illustrations. However the art of the small illustrated cook book has been lost on a tide of celebrity endorsed cookery books, for a nice cookery book we can only look back or to a private press and hope to get books like Lovely Food – A Cookery Notebook by Ruth Lowinsky, Mediterranean Food by Elizabeth David or such like.
However I thought Plats Du Jour was worth looking at in close up for the beautiful covers, letter work and illustration inside. They are so beautiful it is almost aspirational. It sold 50,000 copies in its first year, far outstripping Elizabeth David who was the cookery writer of that age.
Although Gentleman has designed almost everything it could be imagined from Coins and Stamps to Underground Station Artwork and Anti War propaganda he is known most of either his wood-engravings or his lithographs but his drawings and watercolours need a modern retrospective.
Once having studied graphic design I find the history of printing and advertising fascinating. There are all sorts of ephemera that I collect, old business cards, shop receipts, tins, and matchboxes. The woodcuts and early lithographic designs are artworks to their own.
Matchbox designs, being on small cheap items, vulnerable to the customer’s whim, often reflected almost uncannily the attitudes of their age, long before these attitudes could be recognised or analysed. †
Matchbox labels first appeared in 1829 and every conceivable idea was used to illustrate them. By the middle of the nineteenth century the collection of these often colourful and decorative little pieces of design had become a European craze. The early labels were printed by letterpress with woodcut designs, but soon chromolithography was also being used. †
These box labels are mostly from the English and Indian collections, but there are hundreds of other examples.
Covent Garden Market in London has a varied history that came to a head in the 1960s. Traffic to and from the market for buyers and traders was bothersome enough with narrow horse carts but with larger cars and lorries it was a nightmare.
In 1961 the Covent Garden Market Bill was passed, there was some deliberation on what would happen to the historic buildings of Covent Garden after that. Redevelopment plans arose, and for ten years these plans were fiercely fought by the Covent Garden community, arguing in favour of preserving the area for its historical value and cultural meaning.
The Elephant being the GLC for Greater London Council, trampling on the area.
Their victory in this battle preserved Covent Garden’s old market buildings and they were reopened as a major tourist and shopping destination in 1980. The market had to be moved in its entirety across the river to Nine Elms in 1974 but the original buildings were preserved. Below are the responses to the closure and artistic propaganda by David Gentleman to show the beauty of the area.
By the end of the 1960s, traffic congestion had reached such a level that the use of the square as a modern wholesale distribution market was becoming untenable, and significant redevelopment was planned. Following a public outcry, buildings around the square were protected in 1973, preventing redevelopment. The following year the market moved to a new site in south-west London. The square languished until its central building re-opened as a shopping centre in 1980.
Goodbye Covent Garden was a photobook published in 1975 by Oxford Illustrated Press. It featured photographs of the workers and people around Covent Garden taken by Ena Bodin in the last two years of the market. Other than the cars and beautiful signage in the photographs you can see some of the mens fashions and even in some cases – platform shoes.
Above the picture shows the original Market building in use and below you can see the beautiful lithographs by David Gentleman.
David Gentleman – Foreign Fruit Market, 1972
David Gentleman – Southern Section of Piazza (James Butler), 1972
David Gentleman – East Terrace, 1972
David Gentleman – Ellen Keeley’s Shop, 1972
The main premises of barrow-making firm of Ellen Keeley est. in Ireland in 1830. The Keeley family came to England at the time of the potato famine and lived in Nottingham Court. James Keeley invented and produced the costermonger’s barrow, like a shop on wheels and also developed the donkey barrow, once a familiar sight in London. In 1891 he was living at No.12 Nottingham Court and the elderly costermonger Ellen was living alone at No.8. In the 1960s the firm branched out into hiring their vehicles to the film industry (Keeley Hire in Hoddesdon).
Ellen Keeley’s Shop, 33 Neals Street, 2017.
David Gentleman – Warehouses between Shelton St and Earlham St, 1972
David Gentleman – Piazza Looking South Past St Paul’s, 1972
David Gentleman – Warehouse in Mercer St, 1972
David Gentleman – The Flower Market, Covent Garden, 1972
The photography in this post is more of a defeat than a triumph, it is the documenting the end of something. The works of David Gentleman however placed along-side these photos show that Gentleman’s lithographs were able to inspire a vision of the area, making the dishevelled and shabby, romantic. Much like an Eric Ravilious painting. In making the lithographs I believe that Gentleman helped to present a case for the areas protection amongst the artists and lovers of conservation at the time when a spotlight was being put on the East End and Spitalfields.
John Clare (1793 – 1864) was an English poet, the son of a farm labourer, who became known for his celebrations of the English countryside and sorrows at its disruption. His poetry underwent major re-evaluation in the late 20th century: he is now often seen as one of the major 19th-century poets.
This book was published in 1964 with the monthly chapters headed by a wood-engraving by David Gentleman.
The poems of Clare have been republished many times over the years with Gentleman’s illustrations but it is interesting to look at the fashions in book-jacket design using the original illustrations.
When he was commissioned to design murals for the platforms of Charing Cross underground station, artist David Gentleman (born 1930) chose as his theme the building of the medieval Charing Cross, one of the twelve memorial crosses commemorating Queen Eleanor (who died in 1290). He devised a scheme to take into account the architecture of the station, allowing spaces for entrances and exits and litter bins. He collaged together nearly 50 wood engravings which were then screen-printed onto melamine sheets by Perstorp Waterite Limited. This was the first large-scale application of wood engraving. †
A view of the station platform when decorated in 1979.
As with many works by any artist, what came before proved to be important. Before the Charing Cross commission Gentleman had been working in wood-engraving commercially for Penguin Books and their Shakespeare reprints. Steeped in a medieval theme and having to produce one image that would summarise a whole play it was useful training.
Penguin Books, Shakespeare collection with covers designed by David Gentleman.
The most interesting and taxing commission to come my way so far did not begin as an engraving job at all. Late in 1977 London Transport asked me to design a mural for Charing Cross Underground station. The practical aspects were clear enough; it was to be fabricated in screen-printed melamine laminate, curved to follow the profile of the tunnel; it would be about two metres high and it would have to find room not only for numerous platform entrances and London Transport roundels but also for various staff letter boxes, telephones, plus litter bins and wooden benches for people to sit on. The subject-matter however was pretty vague. At that time the words Charing Cross suggested little more than a closed-down hospital and a run-down British Rail terminus, and the only brief was that the mural should remind passengers of what the name Charing Cross had once meant. Graphically I was given a free hand, and also the vital assurance of being directly responsible to the two people with real authority: The Chairman, Kenneth Robinson and the Chief Architect, Sidney Hardy. ‡
Having recently been working not only on the Shakespeare covers but also on lithographs for an American edition of The Ballards of Robin Hood, medieval imagery in illuminated manuscripts and paintings was still much in my mind, both for its epigrammatic clarity and for the way it often depicts a sequence of related events in one picture. This narrative technique suited the hundred-metre long strip of platform, and the idea of showing how the original Charing Cross had been constructed came to my mind straight away. ‡
Original Woodblock by David Gentleman
Here one of the early proofs of the woodcut above for the project before the black background had been carved out.
The only proviso they made before they committed themselves absolutely to it was that a strip of it, about twenty yards long, but just as it would be finally, should be built (a mock up) in the disused Aldwych station where there are empty platforms available for such things and I got blown up (photographically) a few engravings and a few roundels… ♠
Underneath the roundel bulls-eye with ‘Charing Cross’ there was a bench where people can sit. So there was a bench built into the mock up, and then as the idea developed I got the idea that I could have the figures in my design sitting on the bench or using it as a work table. ♠
Many stations also feature unique interior designs to help passenger identification. Often these have themes of local significance. Tiling at Baker Street incorporates repetitions of Sherlock Holmes’s silhouette. Tottenham Court Road features semi-abstract mosaics by Eduardo Paolozzi representing the local music industry at Denmark Street. ♥
Building the first Charing Cross The original Charing Cross was built in 1291-1294 by Edward I in memory of his wife, Queen Eleanor of Castile. It was the most splendid of the twelve Eleanor Crosses erected to mark the successive places where her body rested on its way from Lincoln to Westminster Abbey, and stood near here until it was destroyed in 1647.
Richard of Crundale and Roger of Crundale were the master masons. The stone came from Corfe in Dorset and Caen in Normandy; Richard of Corfe and John of Corfe cut the English stone. Alexander of Abingdon and William of Ireland carved the statues of Queen Eleanor which stood halfway up the Cross, and Ralph of Chichester carved some of the decoration. Many others whose names are forgotten took part in the work: quarry-men, rough-hewers, masons, mortarers, layers, setters, carpenters, thatchers, scaffolders, labourers, falcon or crane-men, apprentices, hodmen, drivers, horsemen and boatmen. These pictures of them are by David Gentleman ♣
The historical plaque with the text (above) and the enlarged wood engravings by David Gentleman.
† David Gentleman – V&A Website. ‡ The Wood Engravings of David Gentleman, David Esslemont p114, 2000. ♠ Oral History – David Gentleman – Reel 4, Imperial War Museum, 2008-07-03. ♥ London Underground – An overview. Pediapress ♣ Mural text in Charing Cross Station, London. Guide to the Archive of Art and Design, Victoria & Albert Museum by Elizabeth Lomas, 2001.
The war had not only hit at Britain’s cities with bombs, but also at the people with rationing. Food and fabric, paper and paint, tea and sugar were all rationed.
It was in the war years that the Lyons teashops became shabby and as fashions started to change in the post war era they looked dated. Materials like wood and paint where mostly reserved and rationed for government use in the post war construction, so another idea had to be devised to make the Lyons tearooms look more respectable.
Lyons Teahouse. 1951 The 2nd series of lithographs on the walls.
The directors, Felix and Julian Salmon had the idea of refreshing the tearooms with lithographic pictures to make them more appealing. In 1947 they sort advice from Jack Beddington who was the Artistic Director of Shell-Mex.
Shell Advert by Tristram Hillier — White Cliffs of Dover
The advertising in the 1930’s for Shell-Mex featured British artists modern work with simple text. It had been a public success and an exhibition of the Shell-Mex lithographs in 1939 was well attended.
The art of advertising in London from the mid 1920’s onward had seen modern art projected onto the public with company’s like Shell-Mex & London Transport using artists like Paul Nash, Edward McKnight Kauffer, Horace Taylor and Graham Sutherland to illustrate bold and simple posters.
It was an age when galleries charged admission and in the war years galleries where disbanding and hiding their art collections safe from German bombing raids. This would mean that the colour advertising posters where some of the few artworks to be left open to the public in wartime and where displayed all over the country. It would be the first time the public would encounter these artists.
Shell Advert by Richard Guyatt — Ralph Allen’s Sham Caster nr Bath.
By appointing Beddinton they relied on his contacts with artists to product the lithographs. Samples and designs where commissioned and the first series of these sixteen prints featured Edward Ardizzone, Edward Bawden, Clifford & Rosemary Ellis, Barnett Freedman (who assisted with artistic advice on lithography) Duncan Grant, Edwin La Dell, John Nash to name half. Artists also claimed royalties on copies sold in the tearooms, an unusual practice in it’s day. One thousand five hundred prints where made of each poster in the first series.
Lyons Print: David Gentleman — Cornish Pilchard Boat
Some of the troubles in printing came from printing trade unions and of artists unfamiliar with the lithography process. Some of these posters had to be hand drawn onto the lithographic plate to be printed, pre-made works where translated from paintings by Chromoworks Ltd, London.
The artworks for Lyons had a press release in 1947 at the Trocadero Restaurant, London, where Lyons often had their board meetings.
A special preview was arranged for Queen Mary.
Many prints where glued to wood or mirrors for hanging in the tearooms, the public could then buy the posters un-mounted and unframed, it’s the prints unglued to canvas and board that are worth more money today.
Edward Bawden — The Dolls at Home.
Thirty of the Lyon’s Tea Rooms in London exhibited the prints at first. Due to the press and public interest the prints were soon found in all Lyons’ teashops. The success of the first series of prints meant that a second and third series of prints came in 1951 and 1955.
It is worth noting that companies like Guinness started to produce lithographic prints (The World Record Series) to brighten up their pubs soon after. So the series and it’s publicity had an ongoing effect.
Penguins Progress; Twenty Five Years, 1935 -1960. A beautifully illustrated book full of different variations of the Penguin Logo. If you are a fan of the books then this is a really lovely treat. Full of the history of Penguin Books and biographies of some of the key people in Penguin.
Illustrations by David Gentleman, John Griffiths, Feliks Topolski and Theodore Ramos. Photographs by Sam Lambert, Lotte Meitner-Graf and Athol Shmith. Cover designed by Elizabeth Friedlander.