Viktor Wynd Requests The Pleasure of Your Company for The Opening of His Next Exhibition of artworks by Mervyn Peake. the exhibition will run until September 2019/
Peter Winnington writes in the introduction to the exhibition catalog.
Mervyn Peake was born in China in 1911 to medical missionary parents. Educated at Eltham College, he won a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy Schools. In the summer of 1933, having completed only three of his five years, he left to join an artists’ colony on the island of Sark, where he painted intensively, producing some remarkable portraits and less remarkable landscapes. Spotted by the head of the Westminster School of Art, he was taken on to teach life drawing from early in 1935.
Back in London, he was invited to contribute pencil portraits of well-known figures to the London Mercury; he painted both portraits and landscapes for himself, at the same time as writing poetry. He had his first major exhibition in the spring of 1938.
With the coming of war, the Westminster School closed and Peake withdraw to the safety of a tiny village in Sussex. He applied to work as a war artist, but he was drafted into the Royal Artillery, which could find little use for him. From the moment he was called up, he started writing a work of pure imagination which was published as Titus Groan in 1946. A second volume, Gormenghast, followed in 1950, and a third, Titus Alone, in 1959. Re-issued as “Penguin Modern Classics” at the end of the 1960s, they finally found the public they needed; they have never since been out of print.
Recognizing Peake’s gift for illustrating nonsense and the fantastic, Chatto & Windus brought out his Hunting of the Snark in 1941, followed by The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which sold out within a week of publication in 1943.
It was a Swedish publisher that commissioned his Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass; his drawings have been called the definitive modern interpretation of Carroll’s books. Nineteen forty- eight saw the publication of one of Peake’s illustrated books for children, Letters from a Lost Uncle ( which was remaindered. In the same year he illustrated Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde for the Folio Society, and he started illustrating Bleak House by Charles Dickens, but the publisher abandoned the project. His Treasure Island (1949) was the last of his great illustrated works.
In 1950, the year in which Gormenghast was published, Peake returned to teaching and, for lack of commissions, he devoted much time to writing a play, which had a very brief run at the Arts Theatre in 1957. By then, he was suffering from early onset Parkinson’s Disease, from which he died in 1968.
As an illustrator, Peake is remembered mainly for his black-and- white work. This exhibition reminds us that, given better means of reproduction, he would have been known for his coloured illustrations too.