On the occasion of the opening of the exhibit next week at Maggs Bros booksellers relating to Waugh’s work as a graphic artist, Michael Bird reviews his career in that field in today’s Sunday Telegraph. After describing Waugh’s movement from modernist iconoclast to opponent of Picasso and his followers, Bird comments on the exhibit:
Antiquarian booksellers Maggs Bros’ selection from Waugh’s copious artistic output includes his Cherwell contributions alongside later commercial work, such as the jacket for Vile Bodies, with its vorticist-inspired racing car graphic. There’s an illustration from Decline and Fall in which the German modernist architect Professor Silenus presides over a building site resembling a demolished temple. True to his cubist roots, Waugh understood what the avant-garde knockers-down of hallowed traditions were about. Modernism might be unfriendly or pretentious, but it was nowhere near as drearily deadly as English good taste…
How easily this angry, avant-garde young man has been obscured by the older Waugh’s born-again loathing for Picasso. After Waugh began his country-house life at Piers Court in 1937, and later at Coombe Florey, his eye seems to have been exercised more in domestic and garden design, and in collecting Pre-Raphaelite paintings, than in making art of any kind.
By the time Brideshead came out in 1945, he was well along this road. Yet, for the moment at least, the cubist renegade lived on in the heart of the grumpy squire. “Charm,” observes [Anthony Blanche to Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited], “is the great English blight. It kills love; it kills art; I greatly fear, my dear Charles, it has killed you.” No manifesto for modern art could put the case more clearly.
The article in the Telegraph’s online edition contains several well-produced reproductions of Waugh’s artwork. The exhibit is entitled “EW Pinxit: The Graphic Art of Evelyn Waugh”. It will have a relatively short run at Maggs Bros Ltd, 48 Bedford Square, London WC1 (maggs.com), from Tues 18 July to Friday 28 July. On Tuesday 25 July Waugh scholar Rebecca Moore will lecture on the subject of her recent research on Waugh’s art in the archives of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. See earlier post.
UPDATE (17 July 2017): The following additional information about the Waugh art exhibit appeared in the Antiques Trade Gazette:
The show, EW Pinxit, is thought to be the first of its kind, and presents a range of Waugh’s early illustrations, which combine Victorian and ‘jazz age’ visual styles. Some material is for sale while some pieces appear on loan from Leeds University’s Brotherton Library, the Waugh family and various private collections.
Among the highlights is a 1950 handmade Christmas card reproducing Gaetano Zumba’s 17th century wax diorama of a plague scene and likening it to family life. It is available for £4500. Also included are a manuscript of the author’s second novel along with a design for the dust jacket and title page illustration, and a selection of drawings for Waugh’s undergraduate magazines Oxford Broom and Cherwell. From the latter is a 1923 series ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ which includes ‘The intolerable wickedness of he who drinks alone.’
The gallery’s Ed Maggs says: “This has always been a somewhat underrated part of his life and we hope to show that his black humour and vicious irony found as equal an opportunity in his artwork as in his writing.”
UPDATE 2 (17 July 2017): The Waugh art exhibit will open tomorrow, Tuesday 18 July, not 25 July as originally stated. Rebecca Moore’s lecture will be on Tuesday, 25 July at 630pm. This has been corrected in the text above.