Leeds University Library

Nostalgia & Progress: Illustration after the Second World War

Published 16 October 2014

Angie Lewin, Ramsons and Campion, 2013. © The Artist

A new exhibition showcasing the work of major post-war British illustrators such as Edward Bawden and Edward Ardizzone, as well as contemporary illustrators inspired by the era.

12 November 2014 - 28 February 2015

This exhibition continues The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery's exhibition series exploring the history of British book illustration (with Fancy and Imagination: Aubrey Beardsley and the Book Illustrators in 2010 and Austerity & Invention: Illustration Between the Wars in 2012). Nostalgia & Progress: Illustration After the Second World War reviews the fertile period after the Second World War.  This era was marked not only by technological progress and innovation - even in the midst of rationing - but also by nostalgia and a romanticising of the pre-war past. 

The impact of post-war illustration for contemporary British illustrators has been significant. The exhibition also includes a display of contemporary work by artists who particularly reference this period, including Mark Hearld, Emily Sutton and Ed Kluz. An illustrated catalogue, with new essays on post-war illustration by James Russell, Sarah Butler, Laura Millward and Layla Bloom, will be available for sale in the Gallery shop.  A full programme of related events will run alongside the exhibition.

Post-War Book Illustration

After the Second World War, book illustration needed to adapt and respond to a changing yet vibrant mass market in publishing. As catalogue writer James Russell explains, for 'jobbing illustrators, the post-war years saw opportunities gradually diminish in the face of progressively cheaper photographic reproduction. Wood engraving was already struggling to compete with colour lithography, and by the 1960s, photographs were replacing hand-drawn illustrations in many contexts.'

In their essay on post-war publishing, Sarah Butler and Laura Millward reveal another issue; the struggle for paper: 'It was not easy for private printing presses in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. Paper rations were still in place, so it was difficult to obtain the high quality, handmade paper required to produce beautiful, individually hand-crafted books.'

However, many illustrators prospered despite these conditions. Children's books became an important market after the war, and artists with a unique, recognisable style were most successful. Edward Ardizzone flourished with his idiosyncratic style that balanced lively line drawing with delicate watercolour washes. Ronald Searle's energetic blots and dashes were also popular for young people's literature. Searle had a dark side to his illustration, stemming from his experiences of the war. Similarly, illustrators such as the individualistic Charles Keeping also reflected the recent difficulties of the war in their artwork.

Edward Bawden, meanwhile, looked to the past for inspiration. He combined both wistful nostalgia and a progressive approach in his illustrations, and achieved great popularity as a result. He taught and influenced a generations of illustrators in this style, including Esme Eve.

Contemporary British illustrators continue to find inspiration in this era, particularly in seeking to emulate the handmade and graphic qualities of post-war artwork. The spirit of 'make do and mend' has great resonance today, in an era of austerity. Though some contemporary illustrators continue to use traditional processes, others now re-create these effects using digital technologies. The exhibition will also feature a variety of recent illustrations by artists Emily Sutton, Mark Hearld, Ed Kluz, Louise Lockhart, Angie Lewin, Matthew The Horse, Tom Frost, Alice Pattullo, Jonathan Gibbs, William Goldsmith, and John Broadley.

Associated events

Detail from Untitled Commissioned for the Higgins Bedford © Alice Pattullo
Dance Workshop with Gerry Turvey
Saturday 29 November 2014 14:00 - 16:00
The Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery
Malcolm Drummond, Drawing for Chelsea Library 2: Gentleman's back, 1920 © The estate of the Artist
Life Drawing
Saturday 3 January 2015 14:00 - 16:00
The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery
quilled flowers
Rolled, scrolled, crimped and folded: The thrilling art of Quilling
Saturday 24 January 2015 14:00 - 16:00
The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery
Jacob Kramer, Reclining Woman, 1915, © William Roberts Society
Life Drawing
Saturday 7 February 2015 14:00 - 16:00
The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery
: Angie Lewin, Knockando Thrift and Feathers, 2012, screenprint. ©The Artist
Ceramic Vase Workshop
Saturday 21 February 2015 13:30 - 16:00
The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery
Embroidered cloth © Amy Twigger-Holroyd
Curious Encounters with Objects Past, Present & Future
Thursday 26 February 2015 13:00 - 16:30
The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery