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Mervyn Peake fantasy art collection picked up for half a million by British Library (news).

July 16, 2020 | By | Reply More

Mervyn Peake, the Chinese-born author of fantasy novels such as Gormenghast (can we call him the father of the New Weird, too?), was also a very talented illustrator, and the British Library has just recognized this by picking up his art collection for half a million pounds. This follows the British Library’s purchase of Peake’s literary archive in 2010.

Mervyn was a Royal Academy-trained artist, often seen as the finest children’s illustrator of the mid-20th century. Drawings for an unpublished prior work called The Moccus Book (1929) reveal Peake’s talent for creating fantasy worlds. Of course, In 2008, The Times named Peake among their list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945”.

His early career in the 1930s was as a painter in London, although he lived on the Channel Island of Sark for a time. At the outbreak of World War II, he applied to become a war artist, but his work was judged “too weird”, and so he joined the Royal Artillery, followed by the Royal Engineers – where he started writing Titus Groan. He was among the first to witness the horrors of the Nazi concentration camp at Belsen, where the remaining prisoners, too sick to be moved, were dying before his eyes. These terrors were later reflected in Mervyn’s works, in much the same way as the carnage of the first world war informed JRR Tolkien’s visions of a rural idyllic Shire threatened by evil forces far away.

His Gormenghast books followed the inhabitants of Castle Gormenghast, a sprawling, decaying, nation-sized Gothic mega-structure.

The fantasy series includes Titus Groan (1946), Gormenghast (1950), and Titus Alone (1959), a novella, Boy in Darkness (1956), and a fourth novel, Titus Awakes, uncompleted at the time of his death in 1968 (the book was later completed by Peake’s widow, Maeve Gilmore, in the early 70’s). Gormenghast Revisited would have been the 5th fantasy novel – but that only exists as scraps of notes and wild ideas.

Gormenghast has influenced many famous fantasy authors, from Michael Moorcock and Terry Pratchett to Stephen Hunt, who told The Gollancz Festival that his capital city of the Kingdom Of Jackals, Middlesteel, was, “basically Gormenghast with airships, steam-driven computers, Zen robots, and a Victorian hyperloop.”

Mervyn Peake’s son, Fabian Peake, told SFcrowsnest, ‘The family of Mervyn Peake is thrilled and delighted that his Visual Archive has been acquired by the British Library. The acquisition is doubly exciting because it will join Mervyn Peake’s Literary Archive which was bought by the Library a few years earlier. It is wonderful to know that so much of his work is housed in this illustrious institution. This acquisition, together with the Literary Archive, acknowledges the breadth and depth of Mervyn Peake’s work, demonstrating his complete command over literature, illustration poetry, theatrical work, and many other art forms. Mervyn Peake’s visual work covers a vast range of human qualities and attributes – from the absurd to the portentous; from the loosely informal sketches to the heights of his technical abilities as a draughtsman. The British Library now holds a world-class collection of Mervyn Peake’s major work.’

Zoë Wilcox, the Curator of the British Library, added, ‘Mervyn Peake sits in the great tradition of writer-artists like William Blake and Edward Lear for whom drawing is integrated into their writing process. Therefore, it feels only right that this archive of illustrations should join the rest of Peake’s papers here at the British Library. In particular they convey how his sense of humour and idiosyncratic imagination made him the perfect illustrator and writer of children’s books, willing to risk scaring his readers while also making them laugh.”

The visual archive of Mervyn Peake was purchased for the nation from the Peake Estate, with the help of donations from Art Fund, with a contribution from the Wolfson Foundation and a contribution in memory of Miranda Stonor, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the British Library Collections Trust, and the Friends of the National Libraries.

Mervyn Peake’s Visual Archive comprises over 300 illustrations, including drawings from Mervyn’s Gormenghast series, together with original pictures for his books for children Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor and Letters From a Lost Uncle and other works, such as Treasure IslandThe Hunting of the Snark, Household Tales by the Brothers Grimm, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

This collects Peake’s archive in one place, making it accessible to the British people for the first time. The Mervyn Peake Visual Archive will be available for research on completion of cataloging in 2022 … with plans to show the artworks in future British Library exhibitions.

Mervyn Peake art collection picked up for half a million by British Library (news).

Mervyn Peake fantasy art collection picked up for half a million by British Library (news).

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Category: Fantasy, Illustration

About the Author ()

Colonel Frog is a long time science fiction and fantasy fan. He loves reading novels in the field, and he also enjoys watching movies (as well as reading lots of other genre books).

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