Thursday, 22 December 2016

Barnett Freedman and the Blackheath School of Art

Whilst Barnett Freedman isn't necessarily a household name like his more famous contemporaries, Ravilious and Bawden, his images and designs will be familiar to many people. He is perhaps best known for his 'Keep Calm and Carry On' posters as well as his images for companies like the London Transport and Shell Oil to name a few.

Advertisement from the Blackheath Local Guide and District Advertiser for a Barnett Freedman lecture at Blackheath School of Art, Wed 6 March, 1940.

Freedman was invited to speak at the school by John Edgar Platt in March 1940 just six months before the school was the close, focusing on the subject of 'The Artist Today'. Platt invited artists to speak about their experiences in the art world and Freedman was one of a number of well known practitioners to speak to the students throughout the 1930's and early 1940's.

Barnett Freedman, Christmas Card 1950's and detail of signature above, signed, collection of the author.

Freedman also designed Christmas Cards and this is the main excuse for this entry to offer Christmas wishes to anyone who has taken the time to read my blog this year. Also thanks must go to friends and colleagues who have listened with interest to my mad ravings when I have made been able to make links between British Art and the Blackheath School of Art. 

James Woodford: Sculptor, printmaker and teacher at the Blackheath School of Art in the early 1930's

My best plans never quite work out and again I have gone further astray in an attempt to keep these entries chronological. I suppose discovering exciting connections will always pull me away from my best laid plans. On this occasion my focus has settled on the sculptor James Woodford.

Robert Austin, Portrait of James Woodford, 1926, red chalk with black chalk highlights.
Source: Liss Llewellyn Fine Art.
James Arthur Woodford was born in Nottingham in 1893. He studied at the Nottingham School of Art in the early 1910’s and won the Prix de Rome in 1922 for sculpture whilst a student at the RCA.[1] Robert Austin was also a Rome scholar having won the award in engraving in 1922 and the two would have known each other at the RCA. Austin produced a portrait of Woodford in chalk in 1926 which depicted him as an immense man with a strong sideways gaze. Woodford was later a model for the figure holding the crucifix in Austin’s Man and Crucifix and Man with a Cross (Liss Llewellyn Fine Art). The two were brothers in law through marriage[2] and the Austin – Woodford family connections continued as both Woodford and Robert’s younger brother Frederick Austin worked at Blackheath School of Art in the early 1930’s (more about Frederick Austin soon).

James Woodford, Blackheath School of Art Prospectus 1931-1932 featuring A Muse: Euterpe.
Source:Collection of the Blackheath Conservatoire.

James Woodford, A Muse: Euterpe (?), Wood block, circa 1931.
Source: Liss Llewellyn Fine Art - more here
Woodford taught sculpture and life drawing at the school between 1931 and 1934 according to the prospectuses produced for these years. This is where my interest in Woodford began as I have believed for some time that the cover of the 1931 – 32 prospectus, depicting a female muse in a landscape, playing an instrument was by designed by him. The influence of Eric Gill can be seen in the black and white silhouette of the figure. The connection and opportunity to securely attribute the work to Woodford became apparent when I discovered that the original woodblock still exists. Thanks to the Liss Llewellyn Fine Art website I have been able to see an image of the original block.

Hans Ladenspoder,  Euterpe from The so-called Tarocchi cards of Mantegna, 16th century.
Source: Courtesy of the British Museum.

Briseis Painter (Greek (Attic), active 510 - 470 B.C.), and Brygos (Greek (Attic), active about 490 - 470 B.C.), Attic Red-Figure Cup, about 480 - 470 B.C., Terracotta, 11.2 × 38.9 × 30.7 cm
Source: Courtesy of The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Two wooden auloi (pipes), Greek, 5thC BC-4thC BC (?)
Source: Courtesy of The British Museum.

Focusing on the instrument played by the Muse it appears that Woodford depicted Euterpe, the muse of music, dance and lyrical poetry. She plays an aulos (also known as a double-flute via a mistranslation) a double-reeded instrument whose modern equivalent is the oboe.[3] Illustrations of Euterpe playing the aulos have been popular from classical Greek times onwards. A sixteenth century image of Euterpe inspired by Mantegna’s Tarocchi Cards is in the British Museum showing the pipes seemingly stuck closely together rather than held together by a bracket as depicted by Woodford.[4] A classical Greek cup in the Getty collection depicts a reveller playing an aulos similar in style to the one depicted by Woodford (see above). The above example of auloi pipes can be seen in the British Museum. The invention of the aulos was once attributed to Euterpe although the creation of this instrument is now credited to Marsyas. He had supposedly either crafted it or picked it up after it was discarded by Athena. This was the instrument that Marsyas played in his competition against Apollo, who played the lyre, ultimately leading to his flaying at the hands of the God.[5]

Woodford’s relief sculptures were influenced by John Edgar Platt (more about him soon – he is planned to be my next blog entry), the school’s principal, and vice versa as has been well described on the Modern Printmakers blog. More about this can be seen here.

James Woodford, Detail of RIBA doors, 66 Portland Place, London 1934.

One of my favourite works by Woodford are the bronze entrance doors of RIBA. They were installed in 1934 so Woodford must have been working on them whilst teaching here. The bronze cast doors are a record of twentieth century London and life along the River Thames. The motifs stand out through their strong lines which create a stylized simplicity of the objects. The stylised lines representing the currents of the river are particularly appealing to me which can be seen in the above image.

Works by Woodford can be seen throughout the UK from the City of London to Nottingham and beyond. He is also well remembered for his colossal plaster statues of The Queen’s Beasts installed at the front of Westminster Abbey for the Coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953 (granite copies of which can be seen at Kew Gardens in front of the main conservatory). Woodford was one of the foremost figurative and architectural sculptors of the twentieth century and it must have been a coup for Platt to have him as a teacher at the Blackheath School of Art. As with all of my entries I will add more information as and when it becomes available.

[1] He is listed as Arthur Woodford and as an ‘art student’ in the 1911 census. His address at this time was 36 Alfred Street, South Nottingham.
[2] James Woodford was married to Rose Harrison whose sister Ada Mae Harrison was married to Robert Austin.
[3] Hall, J, Hall’s Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art, 2000, p. 217. Euterpe’s attribute is described as a flute, often double. It is also listed under ‘Pipe’ (p. 248) describing it as technically not a flute but a reed instrument like an oboe known in Latin as a tibia.
[4] Classical images do show the aulos joined together by a bracket so they are not tightly stuck together. 
[5] Titian's The Flaying of Marsyas depicts the story in gory detail and includes a dog lapping up the blood dripping from the flayed body of Marsyas. I first encountered this sunning picture in the Titian exhibition at The National Gallery in 2003. In this painting Marsyas' instrument, pan pipes not an aulos, hangs from the tree above his feet.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Alfred De Sauty bookbinder and printmaker

I have always enjoyed coincidences and for many years thought that they all had meaning. I am not so sure now, perhaps that is down to me becoming older and much less wise. My grand plans to write my blog chronologically went out the window despite trying to get a plan together to make it flow by date. In the end I chose Alfred de Sauty as my next subject firstly as he had intrigued me because there didn’t seem to be a lot written about him. Secondly I loved the prints he produced of Chicago (more on these later). Whilst trying to find out more about him I discovered that Harold Nelson produced an ex-libris bookplate for him providing a perfect segue to this entry.

Alfred de Sauty, Seda (Design for an Ornamental Chapter Heading).
Source: The Studio, October 1897, p. 65.

Alfred de Sauty was born in Gibraltar in 1870. His father Charles Victor De Sauty worked for the Atlantic Telegraph Company and served on the Great Eastern laying the Atlantic Telegraph. He died in 1893 and at this time Alfred De Sauty was employed as an electrician, following in his father’s footsteps.[1] Like his father he also spent lots of time at sea, and during his time off on the ships he developed his passion for drawing. His interest was furthered by subscribing to The Studio.[2] One of his earliest documented works appeared in the Studio Magazine in October 1897, reproduced as a part of their ‘Awards’ section for that year. It won the second prize in the Design for Ornamental Chapter Heading category.[3] By this point he was living in Balham, SW London. According to the 1911 census he lived at 30 Glebe Place, Chelsea and his profession was listed as bookbinder and teacher of bookbinding for LCC.[4]

It seems most likely that De Sauty began his career working on books with the Hampstead Bindery. At this time, in 1898, he was living in Hampstead.[5] During the early years of the 1900’s De Sauty had studios in central London.[6] In the decade prior to the First World War he was one of the senior teachers of the book binding department of the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London, described as one of the most important schools teaching bookbinding.[7] At this time De Sauty was known for his new technique of inlaid leathers and detail work and a leader in the field.[8] Many authors, including Tidcombe, have highlighted that De Sauty’s finest bookbindings come from the period from 1905 to 1914.[9] Many of his book bindings still exist and are incredibly intricate and beautiful. As these objects have been written about at length and my knowledge of binding is not great I won’t be focusing on them here. De Sauty also designed and carved his own bookbinding tools and also encouraged his students to do the same.[10]

Alfred de Sauty, Shakespeare Sonnets, 1910.
Source: The Studio, Vol. 49, no. 210, March 1910, p. 111.

De Sauty became interested in printmaking and produced etchings and subsequently one of his prints was exhibited at the Royal Academy. A collection of his works, featuring images of London, was given to the National Library of Wales in 1977.[11] The First World War brought about a temporary end to De Sauty’s artistic pursuits as he served both in the Special Constabulary and the United Arts Corps.[12]

Following the end of the war it appears that De Sauty had gave up his artistic work and sold his bookbinding equipment to John Mason.[13] According to the 1921 Prospectus Alfred de Sauty was the teacher of Bookbinding at the Blackheath School of Art. At this time the school was still located at its temporary address of 5 Lee Terrace. Harold Nelson was also a teacher at this point so perhaps this is where they both met. It is quite possible that they both met whilst teaching at the school if they had not already met earlier in their careers. The course timetable prior to the move back to the purpose built studios in 1922, from 5 Lee Terrace, showed that Black and White Illustration and Bookbinding both took place on Tuesday evenings between 6.30pm and 9pm. Once again other than the prospectus sadly I have not come across any other evidence to prove this.

Harold Nelson, Avancez: Ex Libris for Alfred de Sauty, Cornelia Neltnor Anthony and Frank D. Anthony Book Plate Collection, West Chicago Public Library.
Source: Courtesy of West Chicago Public Library.

The bookplate which Nelson produced for De Sauty depicts a knight on horseback charging through a landscape with the word ‘Avancez’ written above the knight and below ‘Alfred de Sauty’. As discussed in my previous entry on Nelson, the style appears to date it post 1900, with the image composed of strong lines and very little, if any shading on the figure. The page which the bookplate is mounted on shows Nelson’s address as 1 Hare Court, EC4 and it is also noted, in the same hand as Nelson’s address, on the bottom of the page, that it was given by the artist in 1923.[14] This may provide further proof that bookplate was made as a result of the two artists meeting at the Blackheath School of Art.

It seems quite likely that De Sauty departed the UK, on 21 September 1923, from the Liverpool Docks on the steamship Montlaurier, a part of the Canadian Pacific Fleet, to Quebec.[15] De Sauty was on his way to Chicago to work for RR Donnelley and Sons, who were leading printmakers in the US.[16] Working for their bookbindery, known as the Extra Bindery, he was responsible for many projects not least the continuation of traditional methods of book binding including hand binding of books. This was heavily promoted by Donnelley as one of the major selling points of products produced at the Extra Bindery. De Sauty hired three European trained bookbinders, William Anson, Basil Cronk and Leonard Mouteney[17] to be a part of the Extra Bindery, each well versed in traditional binding skills. In all, he spent over 11 very successful years running the Extra Bindery.

Alfred de Sauty, Floreat Chicago!, aquatint, 1930’s, Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Whilst in Chicago De Sauty once again took up printmaking producing some stunning, atmospheric images of the city. These were the objects that first brought his work to my attention. The aquatint Floreat Chicago! (above) depicted the city as one huge, flourishing metropolis with skyscrapers appearing to have been built one on top of the other. Two other aquatints by De Sauty: Chicago by Moonlight, The Ward Memorial and Chicago Fair, 1933 highlight De Sauty’s interest in light effects and night time scenes.[18]

More research needs to be done on De Sauty’s travels to and from the USA as he, his wife Georgina and their children travelled back to the UK on a number of occasions. In 1928 De Sauty returned from the UK to New York on the Cunard Ship Carmania, leaving Southampton, 12 May 1928.[19] Sydney De Sauty travelled to the US on 23 August 1924, presumably to visit his parents.[20] Georgina, returned to the UK from New York on 7 June 1927, travelling on the Atlantic Line steamship Minnekahda.[21] She returned to the UK from New York again on 13 December 1927, perhaps to visit her son Sydney at Christmas, on the Cunard Line ship, Antonia, disembarking at Plymouth.[22] Sydney also travelled to New York, with his wife, in October 1930.[23]

According to Tidcombe, De Sauty returned to the UK in 1935 after retiring from his position at RR Donnelly. Following his retirement, the Extra Bindery was then led by Harold Tribolet, who started his career at RR Donnelley as an apprentice.[24] Initially, on his return, he lived in Land’s End and then moved to North London. In 1938 De Sauty is recorded living at 94 Priory Road, East Finchley.[25] Whether he returned to producing art is not certain although he trained as an air raid warden at the beginning of the Second World War and was awarded a civil defence medal for his efforts during this period.[26]

De Sauty died in 1949 at the age of 79 in North London. He is remembered as a fine practitioner of traditional bookbinding methods more in the USA than the UK. One can only wonder if two world wars did not impede on his career how prolific his output would have been. Without these interruptions he would now be better known and renowned in the UK, not just as a bookbinder of great skill but also as a fantastic printmaker. I hope to have the opportunity to look closer at his prints in the future and to add to this entry when I discover more about him.

[1] Charles Victor De Sauty died on 23 April 1893 in Gibraltar at 59 years of age. He was a superintendent of the Eastern Telegraph Company according to the entry in the National Probate Calendar of 1893. A portrait sketch of him, depicted top centre, drawn by Henry O’Neil, appeared with other members of the crew in the Eastern Telegraph (the ship’s newspaper in 1865). He left effects in excess of £7000 to his widow Jane Smith De Sauty and his son Alfred. His mother Jane Smith De Sauty died on 7 January 1927 at age 84 (National Probate Calendar, 1927). Tidcombe, ‘The Mysterious Mr De Sauty’, p. 329. Alfred de Sauty started working as a junior electrician for the Eastern Telegraph Company.
[2] Ibid. He served on the Eastern Telegraph Company’s ships for 11 years, travelling through Africa and India.
[3] ‘Awards in the Studio Prize Competitions’ in The Studio, October, 1897, pp. 61 & 65. The prize was half a guinea.
[4] 1911 Census – he was 41 years of age at this time and was married to Georgina although there is a line through his wife’s name and she was 34 years old. The census also refers to them having a child but they were not recorded in the census. This would have been his son, Sydney, who was born in 1899. Georgina Harriet Gangler was born on 13 September 1878 in Newland Street (40?) in the Parish of Saint Luke’s Chelsea.
[5] Tidcombe, op. cit., p. 330. De Sauty resided at 1a South Hill Park, Hampstead. Tidcombe adds that De Sauty was most likely reticent in mentioning this period as he was later to have problems with the Bindery’s owner Kerslake claiming De Sauty’s work as his own. It is in this passage that De Sauty’s learning of the craft of bookbinding is linked with Chiswick College.
[6] Loc.cit., p. 311. De Sauty had a studio space in 1901 at 4 Mays’s Buildings, St Martin’s Lane and in 1904 at 21 Archer Street works, Great Windmill Street.
[7] The school is described as being the leading place to learn the craft of bookbinding from 1897 to 1963. Conroy, T, ‘Training of Binders in England’ in Guild of Book Workers Journal, Vol. XXVIII, No. 1 & 2, 1990, p. 13.
[8] ‘Mr De Sauty has succeeded in developing a new and admirable style of inlaid leathers, combined with delicate pointille work.’ ‘Bookbinding’ in Encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol. 4, 1911, p. 218.
[9] Tidcombe, op. cit., p. 332.
[10] Ibid., p. 332. He also designed the decorative tools used by the Society of Women Binders.
[11] National Library of Wales, Annual Report, p. 36. The titles of the works which relate to UK subjects are:
The Serpentine, Some Chelsea Roofs; A Zante Church (noted to have been exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1913); On the Zennor Road - St. Michael's Mount; From Church Tower - Bungay; Dawn - Cornwall; St. Mary's - Penzance; Spiderwort; The Lights of London; Toll bridge, Shoreham; Shoreham Harbour and Norfolk Bridge – Shoreham. I assume that the London images date from the period before the First World War and the others, depicting scenes outside London, may possibly be from when he returned to the UK
[12] Loc. cit., p. 33. De Sauty transferred his drawings onto etching plates and printed them. Artists joined the United Arts Corps along with actors undertaking various military tasks throughout the city of London.
[13] Ibid. See also note 12 – which describes that De Sauty focused on a toy making business as it was more profitable and subsequently sold his bookbinding equipment to Mason.
[14] London Post Office Directory, 1934, p. 2504 NEI – NET shows that Nelson still had his studio at Hare Court at this time. The date on the bottom of the page on which the bookplate is mounted is 16 August 1923. Thanks to Annie Budzinski from the West Chicago Public Library for allowing permission to use this image.
[15] It seems most likely that he was number 50531 on the passenger list entered as ‘Alfred Sauty’ along with his wife Georgina. His last recorded address in the UK was Ivy Cottage, Joyce Green, Dartford and his occupation as ‘Farmer’. There is some doubt about this, not least his listed occupation, as their country of intended residence was listed as Canada. It does however seem more than a coincidence that the year of birth and the name of his wife both match.
[16] Tidcombe, op. cit., p. 333. Douglas Cockerell was consulted by RR Donnelly about British staff to run their bindery and recommended De Sauty. Cockerell had also recommended De Sauty take over his teaching at the Central School when he left for W.H. Smith.
[17] Coventry, K, ‘RR Donnelley & Sons Company: Its Role in the Development of Commerce, Craft and Culture in Chicago’ in Caxtonian: Journal of the Caxton Club, Vol. XV, no. 1, January 2007, p. 6.
[18] These two works are also in the Smithsonian collection and others from the edition are recorded in the National Library of Wales.
[19] De Sauty’s occupation is listed as ‘no info’ and his address as 32 Danvers Road, Hornsey. He was passenger no. P1921. His country of intended permanent residence was the USA.
[20] Sydney travelled on the George Washington, from Southampton. His recorded occupation was ‘engineer’ and address was 1 Hepton Road, Streatham.
[21] Georgina De Sauty was passenger no. 106 in the manifest and her proposed address in the UK was 12 Bishop’s Park Road, Norbury.
[22] On this occasion her UK address was recorded as 32 Danvers Road, Hornsey and she was passenger no. 117. Sydney was recorded as living at 32 Danvers Road, Hornsey when he travelled to the USA in 1930 (see footnote 18  for details) and in the 1935 Electoral Roll.
[23] Sydney and his wife Violet travelled to New York on 11 October 1930. They were passenger no’s 9441 (Violet) and 9442 on the Cunard Line ship Caronia. Their address was recorded as 32 Danvers Road, Hornsey, N8.
[24] Printing for the Modern Age, Craftsmanship by Example: Fine Binding, University of Chicago website -
[25] De Sauty lived at 94 Priory Road, London, N8 according to the 1938 or the Central Hornsey Ward. The following were also recorded at this address his wife Georgina Harriet De Sauty, his son Sydney De Sauty and his wife Violet Irene De Sauty. Two others are listed at this address: Doris Margaret Boswell and Gladys Irene Priscilla Ross.
[26] National Museum of Wales, loc. cit. The list includes a framed wood engraving entitled, Newlyn, Cornwall described as being dated ‘41’. This is the only art work I have come across so far that is dated after his return to the UK in 1935.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Harold Nelson, designer and illustrator and teacher at Blackheath School of Art

Early last week I was privileged to be able to visit the Art-Workers’ Guild and look through their archival material relating to the illustrator Harold Edward Hughes Nelson. This material helped me learn a bit more about Nelson as sadly his biography has been rather neglected. My interest began with the discovery that Nelson taught at the Blackheath School of Art in the early 1920’s.

Nelson was born on the Isle of Wight and is recorded as having lived in New Cross (1881), Stockwell (1901) and in nearby Catford according to the 1911 census after having grown up in New Cross.[1] Nelson studied at the Lambeth School of Art and the Central School of Art and Design. In 1901 he lived in Stockwell in the borough of Lambeth and was recorded as a Black and White Artist.

He was an established designer and illustrator when he taught at the Blackheath School of Art in the early 1920’s. On page 10 of the 1920 prospectus he is listed as the teacher of Black and White Book Illustration and Decorative Figure Work. The tuition was described as follows –
‘The course of teaching will consist of the treatment of illustration in all its branches in relation to the condition of modern process reproduction, special attention being given to all its methods. Book Illustration will be considered in regard to its place as part of the book and its relation to typography, including also the study of Initial Letters, Borders and Tail-pieces; also Decorative Figure Compositions.’

Nelson was elected as a member of the Art Worker’s Guild on 1 November 1912.[2] The Guild had been founded in 1884 as a place where the fine arts and applied arts could meet and work together on an equal footing. He became a member, having been nominated by Harold Stabler (painter and designer) and Hugh Arnold (stained glass artist), along with Reginald Frampton, a decorative painter, and C.R. Peers, an architect.[3] He had previously been a Junior Member pre-1912; continuing his membership until his death 1948.[4] Nelson produced a number of designs for the Guild including a bookplate depicting the building located at 6 Queen Square, London and also a card showing the location of the Hall. At this time Nelson had a studio at 1 Hare Court, EC4 which is revealed on the reverse of both of the designs which have a book plate initialed ‘HN’, a view of the colonnade of Hare Court and the address.[5] Hare Court housed artist studios in the early 1900’s and artists like Max Gill (brother of Eric) worked there. The architect Edward Prior had his offices at 1 Hare Court until the First World War.[6]

Nelson later became the secretary of the Guild.[7] Harold took his nephew, the portraitist Edmund, to meetings and it was here that they both would have experienced talks by artists such as Arthur Rackham and Sir Edwin Lutyens.[8] A drawing portraying Nelson survives in the collection of the Art Worker’s Guild, executed by Esther Borough Johnson. It depicts an austere gentleman in suit and tie, completed just before his untimely death in February 1948.[9]

Harold Nelson, Frontispiece featuring Self Portrait of the Artist, 1895.

Hans Schäufelein, St Luke; seated behind his desk at left in an interior and writing; the winged ox lying in a doorway at r. Illustration to Johann Schönsperger's New Testament, Augsburg 1523, woodcut, The British Museum.
Nelson's self portrait above is indebted to images like this depicting Saint Luke writing or painting the 'first portrait' of the Virgin and Child.

Nelson’s early designs, dating from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, harked back to earlier pictures and were influenced by Renaissance prints especially images by Durer. His self portrait, above, which was most likely the frontispiece of Harold Nelson: His Book of Bookplates Consisting of 24 Original Designs owes a debt to Renaissance images of Saint Luke like the one designed by Han Schäufelein in the collection of The British Museum. Another example of his earlier style can be seen in his book plate for Geoffrey Burton, featuring a scholarly figure sat at a desk studying a book recalling images of Saint Jerome in his library by fifteenth and sixteenth century artists like Antonello and Durer. Later works relied more upon his powerful lines rather than shading reflecting the influence of the Art Nouveau style prevalent in the 1910's and 1920’s. The reliance on flourishing lines rather than shading can be seen in the ex libris designs for Jane Nelson, Geoffrey Parkyn and Leopold d’Estreville Lefenestey (all below). Today he is remembered mainly as a designer and illustrator of ex libris book plates. The plates were produced for many individuals including those mentioned above and also organisations which included Saint Andrew’s Church, Carshalton in Surrey. Nelson was also an illustrator of books such as The Talking Beasts, Robin Hood and Udine to name a few.  His design, featuring Saint George and the Dragon, for the £1 stamp for the Postal Union Conference of 1929 is an item that is often cited when his name is mentioned.

Harold Nelson, Geoffrey Burton Ex Libris, collection of the author.
Harold Nelson, Jane Nelson Ex Libris, collection of the author.
Harold Nelson, Geoffrey Parkyn Ex Libris, collection of the author.

Harold Nelson, Leopold d’Estreville Lefenestey Ex Libris, collection of the author.
Lefenestey was a soldier and inventor and his bookplate featured an image of the ideal beauty of a young Victorian woman in a long flowing dress.

Harold Nelson, St Andrew's Church, Carshalton Ex Libris, collection of the author. 
Saint Andrews was demolished in 1964.

Nelson also produced commercial designs for products and companies: including whiskey, soap, Edison phonographs, Selfridges and other consumables.[10] He also produced covers for magazines, sheet music and concert programmes,  and frontis pieces for books including The Hub (a cycling magazine) in 1899, some covers for Cassell and Co. publishers, The Strand Magazine and Sphinx magazine, and various books including some focusing on masterpieces of British Art.[11] Another element of his work that I was not previously aware of are his outline design decorations made for photographs to be inserted. Nelson was definitely adept at developing his technique and design styles to fit new trends.[12] Although he is known mainly for his black and white designs his colour images are incredibly beautiful as can be seen in the image of a ship (inside section) from a Christmas Card design from the early 1920’s below and numerous other Christmas Cards.[13]

Harold Nelson, Christmas Card (detail of inside page), collection of the author.

As always this blog is a work in progress and I will add more information as I find it in the hope that more details on his life may lead to a renewed interest in his work. A few of the appeals that Nelson’s work holds for me are his open acknowledgement of the influence of the Renaissance Print and how accessible his ex libris book plates currently are.

[1] 1881 census shows Harold Nelson living at 85 New Cross Road at age 9 after having been born on the Isle of Wight. In the 1901 census he is listed as living at 110 Grantham Road, Stockwell which means that he moved to Catford later the same year. The 1911 census lists Nelson living with his wife Fanny and two children, Winifred and Harold Ludlow, at 115 Broadfield Road, Catford. His occupation was listed as ‘Artist’. Christmas Cards dated 1901, 1903 and 1906 show his address as 14 Broadfield Road as does his membership entry for the Art Workers’ Guild (other dates) meaning he must have moved sometime after 1906 and before the 1911 census.
[2] Nelson was one of 6 artists who appeared on the ballot paper.
[3] The ballot paper is included in the minute notes for the meeting on 1 November 1912 in front of p. 266. (AWG/1/3/15) The other artists on the ballot who were not elected included: W. Aumonier Jr, a woodcarver, the eminent Australian landscape painter Arthur Streeton and H.G. Webb a wood engraver and printer.
[4] Massé, H.J.L.J., The Art Workers’ Guild 1884 – 1934, Oxford, 1935, p. 27. The Junior Art Workers’ Guild (originally known as the ‘The Art Student’s Guild’) was founded by T.G. Jackson to enable students to receive the same benefits that Guild had provided for regular members. Nelson studied at the Lambeth School of Art and Central School of Art and Design so would have become a junior member whilst studying at one of these schools.
[5] This address appears on the reverse of both of these items. It seems most likely that these were produced to promote the new premises and therefore date from about 1912.
[6] Cook, MG, Edward Prior: Arts and Crafts Architect, London 2015.
[7] From the material viewed at the Art-Workers’ Guild this position must have been held post 1934 as Nelson does not appear in the list of notable members, Masters and Secretaries in Massé, op. cit., pp. 99 - 101.
[8] ‘Edmund Nelson Obituary’, The Independent, 13 February 2007.
[9] Thanks again to Lisa and Monica for allowing me to view the drawing. The drawing is dated 1948 and must have been completed in either January or February of that year. An image of the drawing can be found on the Bridgeman Images website –
[10] Two folders labelled drawings at the Art Workers’ Guild include a number of the products that Nelson created designs for. ‘Have You Heard of the Bibby Soap?’ featuring two elegant women perusing a bar of soap appears in Volume II of the Drawings (AWG/7/1/11). Nelson's design advertising Selfridge's, titled Labor Omnia Vincit, Selfridge & Co., can be found in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum (E.229-1987) 
[11] Drawings Vol. I including the National Gallery of British Art and the Walker Art Gallery.
[12] Drawings Vol I features Nelson and his Times (with a photograph of a bust of Nelson in the centre of the design), Gems from the Galleries: The National Gallery of British Art (features a photograph of Sarah Siddons by Gainsborough) and a number of organisational charts in the Hub cycling magazine and family group illustrations (Connaught Family).
[13] A folder of Christmas Card designs in colour – many of which were created by Nelson can be seen in the Art Workers’ Guild (AWG/7/1/71 Christmas Cards 1936: Sample Book ‘B’)