The Man Who Drew Everything

For the very first time, 103 drawings by the Japanese artist Hokusai are on display. The illustrations, recently acquired by the British Museum, were produced for an illustrated encyclopedia called The Great Picture Book of Everything. Yet, the book was never published. Hokusai specialised in printmaking during the Edo Period (1603-1867), which involved drawing a design on paper to be pasted onto a woodblock and used as a stencil. As a result, the original drawings were destroyed. To see 103 original illustrations is a very rare honour and highlights Hokusai’s skill and style. 

Katsushika Hokusai lived between 1760 and 1849 in the Katsushika district of Edo (Tokyo). Not much is known about his childhood, except his father was an artisan who possibly taught his son to paint from a young age. Throughout his life, Hokusai went by over 30 names and pseudonyms. As a child, he was known as Tokitarō, but whether this was his birth name is uncertain.

At age 12, Hokusai started working in a library where he became familiar with illustrated books made from woodcut blocks. Two years later, he became an apprentice to a woodcarver until the age of 18, after which he joined the studio of Katsukawa Shunshō (1726-93). Renamed Shunrō by his master, he produced his first set of prints.

Between joining the studio and the end of the 18th century, Hokusai (or Shunrō) had two wives, both of whom died young. He fathered two sons and three daughters, the youngest of whom became his assistant. Known as Ōi (1800-66), she became an artist in her own right. Around the time of the birth of his children, Hokusai began exploring European styles, which ultimately resulted in his expulsion from the Katsukawa studio.

Away from the constraints of the Katsukawa studio, which primarily produced prints of courtesans and actors, Hokusai began focusing on landscapes and people of all levels of society. He joined the Tawaraya School of artists, changing his name to Tawaraya Sōri in the process. Hokusai mostly worked for private clients, producing prints for special occasions and book illustrations. He eventually broke away from Tawaraya School and set out as an independent artist under the name Hokusai Tomisa.

In the early 1800s, he changed his name to Katsushika Hokusai, by which he is known today. “Katsushika” refers to his district of birth in Edo, and “Hokusai”, literally meaning “north studio”, honours the North Star, a symbol of a deity in Nichiren Buddhism. As an independent artist, Hokusai took on over 50 pupils but continued focusing on his artwork and self-promotion. He also collaborated with the novelist Takizawa Bakin (1767-1848), producing illustrations for several novels, including Chinsetsu Yumiharizuki (Strange Tales of the Crescent Moon.

At the age of 51, Hokusai changed his name once again. Under the name Taito, he produced “Hokusai Manga” (Hokusai’s Sketches) about various subjects. This should not be confused with the story-telling manga of the 21st-century. Hokusai’s manga featured random drawings, such as his Quick Lessons in Simplified Drawing manual (1812). This book was both an easy way to make money and to attract new students.

In 1820, Hokusai changed his name to Iitsu. Under this new name, he published his most famous work, Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, which included the picture Great Wave off Kanagawa. The British Museum owns three copies of the Great Wave, which date to around 1831. As the scientific researcher Capucine Korenberg points out, there is no “original” copy of the drawing because between 5,000 and 15,000 were printed in the 1800s. Despite the significant output, only 111 or so survive today.

By studying the copies of the Great Wave, Korenberg identified subtle differences between each print. To create the print, Hokusai drew one copy with pen and ink, which he sent to his publisher, Nishimuraya Yohachi. The original drawing was pasted onto a block of cherry wood and given to a block cutter (hori-shi), who carved out the “white space” between the lines with a chisel. This resulted in the “key-block”, which could be used numerous times to produce prints.

Through her study of the Great Wave prints, Korenberg noted that some were printed using different key-blocks. She assumes new blocks were produced after the old ones wore down. Korenberg also suggests changes were made to the blocks to “improve” the print or make it more appealing to specific customers. In some prints, the outlines are stronger than others, and the colours brighter. To emphasise the differences, a modern reproduction of the print was made in 2017 by the sixth-generation proprietor of Takahashi Studio. They used the same colours, or as close to, as the “original” prints, which have faded over time. Aside from the colours, there are several subtle differences, such as the shape of some of the lines.

Whilst the Great Wave off Kanagawa is Hokusai’s most famous work, it is not the main focus of the exhibition at the British Museum. The original drawing of the Great Wave was destroyed during the printmaking process, as were those of all Hokusai’s other prints. The only surviving sketches are those that never made it to publication. Although some may consider these works “unfinished”, they provide an insight into Hokusai’s drawing ability, which gets lost during the printing process. The small size of the illustrations is also surprising, especially considering the intricate lines and detail in each drawing.

In 1849, Hokusai famously exclaimed from his deathbed, “If only Heaven will give me just another ten years … Just another five more years, then I could become a real painter.” Unfortunately, the 90-year-old passed away shortly afterwards, leaving over one hundred drawings intended for The Great Picture Book of Everything unprinted. The illustrations were placed in a purpose-made silk Japanese box and forgotten about for many years. In 1948, the drawings appeared in a Parisian auction, then disappeared from public once more. Finally, they resurfaced in 2019, and the British Museum used a grant from the Theresia Gerda Buch Bequest and Art Fund to purchase them. Nearly two hundred years since their creation, Hokusai’s hand-drawn illustrations are on display for the first time.

As well as demonstrating Hokusai’s illustration skills, the drawings explore ancient history and the natural world, as well as the desire to learn about unfamiliar countries and cultures. The Tokugawa government forbade the Japanese to travel abroad, which fueled their desire to learn about the world. Only those with special permits could leave the country, so Hokusai set out with the determination to sketch and document everything for those stuck back at home.

Despite the strict control over travel between different countries, trade between Japan and China flourished. Silk, ceramics and daily goods often came from China, and along with them, ancient Chinese lores and traditions. Several of Hokusai’s illustrations represent Chinese legends about the creation of the world and the beliefs of Chinese scholars, poets and Daoist philosophers. Hokusai explored the origins of the universe and human beings, including prehistoric deities, such as Kang Hui, who allegedly flooded the world in a rage.

In one illustration, Hokusai drew the mythological general Hou Yi, the greatest Chinese archer of all time. According to legend, he married the moon goddess, Chang’e, and shot down nine of the ten suns. The ten suns were making the temperature on Earth unbearably hot and causing widespread famine and drought. To save the planet, Hou Yi attempted to shoot all ten out of the sky. He hit all but one, which hid in a cave, plunging the Earth into unbearable darkness and cold. After much begging, the sun reemerged and remained the only sun in the sky.

Chinese myths explain the beginning of nearly all aspects of society and culture, including music, medicine, carpentry, and art. Most of these discoveries are associated with mythical emperors who were revered as gods, such as Fuxi, who the myths credit with the invention of music in the form of a transverse harp, hunting, fishing, domestication, and cooking with fire. Confucian scholars believe the origins of Chinese society derived from the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors in around 2,000 BC. Fuxi was the first of the Three Sovereigns, and the first of the Five Emperors was the Yellow Emperor, who reigned for 100 years.

As well as Chinese mythology, Hokusai illustrated other East Asian legends, in particular Buddhist India. Buddha came from India and passed his teachings on to his disciples, who gradually spread Buddhism to neighbouring countries. Travelling storytellers wove sacred Buddhist texts into their tales and took them to China, from whence the myths made their way to Japan. Some narratives became part of popular culture, featuring in stage dramatizations and such-like. Hokusai looked at these well-known stories and explored the original myths.

One illustration depicts the moment the boatman Monk Decheng knocked Jiashan into the sea. According to the story, Decheng left monastic life to become a ferryman. While sailing his passengers across the river, he taught them about self-realisation. On one occasion, a man called Jiashan boarded the boat, and Decheng began his usual spiel. In the middle of the journey, Decheng knocked Jiashan overboard and hit him three times with his oar, upon which Jiashan reached enlightenment. Several versions of the myth exist, and according to one conclusion, Decheng named Jiashan as his successor, then jumped into the river and drowned.

Another illustration shows the fate of Virūdhaka, the king of Kosala who lived during the time of Buddha. Despite his mother coming from the Shaka clan, the same family as Buddha, Virūdhaka did not receive a warm welcome. As it turned out, the king was the son of a slave girl, which he took as a grave insult. Virūdhaka planned to annihilate the Shaka clan, despite warnings from Buddha that he would die in the process. Virūdhaka succeeded in destroying most of the Shaka clan, but during the victory banquet was struck by a bolt of lightning and killed.

Hokusai’s depiction of the lightning bolt striking Virūdhaka is an early version of modern manga, which developed a century later. Contemporary manga artists use lines of varying thickness and length to indicate speed, sound and physical impact. Hokusai surrounded Virūdhaka with a sunburst of lines to demonstrate the strength and direct hit of the lightning bolt.

Not all Hokusai’s illustrations for The Great Picture Book of Everything focused on mythical beings and stories. He demonstrated the typical clothing and costumes of men from different cultures and countries to fuel the Japanese people’s interest in other lands. He focused on East, Southeast and Central Asian countries, such as Vietnam, the Philippines, Ryūkyū (a chain of Japanese islands that once belonged to China), India, China and Korea. He also drew a Portuguese man who lived in Asia during the Edo period. At this time, the Japanese called Europeans “Southern barbarians”.

The majority of Hokusai’s illustrations for The Great Picture Book of Everything cover geographical features and nature. Several depict Japanese landscapes, mountains, seas and rivers, home to many animals and plant life. Rather than simply drawing each animal, Hokusai detailed the movement of fur, limbs and tails to create a sense of individual characterization and energy. His sketch of two street cats, for instance, demonstrates a standoff as one reprimands the other for stepping on his territory near the overgrown hibiscus plant.

Other animals Hokusai drew include otters, bears, tigers, leopards, deer, donkeys, porcupines, goats, camels, ostriches, and aquatic birds. As well as these, Hokusai sketched mythical beasts, for instance, kirin, a dragon-shaped like a deer with an ox’s tail, and baku, a nightmare-devouring beast created from the leftover pieces when the gods finished forming all other animals. Hokusai also drew a hairy rhinoceros with a tortoise-like shell on its back. This was probably not a mythical creature but based upon descriptions of the animal.

Hokusai occasionally drew natural animals alongside mythical beasts, for example, his sketch of a phoenix and peacock. In Chinese tradition, and subsequently Japanese, the peacock is a manifestation of the phoenix. The phoenix is one of the Twelve Symbols of Sovereignty, the others being the sun, moon, stars, mountain, dragon, goblets, seaweed, grains, fire, an axe head, and the “fu” symbol (representing the power of the emperor to distinguish evil from good and right from wrong.) According to the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644 AD), a peacock represented divinity, rank, power, and beauty. The eyes on its tail are associated with the goddess Guan Yin, whose name means “The One Who Perceives the Sounds of the World.” Buddhists believe when they die, Guan Yin places them in the heart of a lotus and sends them to the Pure Land of Sukhāvatī.

When Tim Clark, the former Head of the Japanese Section and now an Honourary Fellow at the British Museum, recommended the purchase of Hokusai’s drawings for The Great Picture Book of Everything, little did the museum know how popular they would prove with the public. Tickets sell out daily as people flock to see Hokusai’s preliminary drawings up close for the first time. The purchase has allowed the museum to collaborate with scholars across the globe to deepen their understanding of printmaking and Japanese culture and history. Just as the prohibitions on travel made the Japanese people of the late Edo period hungry for knowledge about history, foreign lands and the natural world, people of the 21st-century can discover the same things by studying Hokusai’s drawings. Displaying the drawings now, as the world comes out of lockdown, helps visitors relate to the desire to travel during the Edo period. Whereas the contemporary world resorted to digital technology to survive the pandemic restrictions, the Japanese used books, stories and drawings to learn about the world beyond their shores.

Hokusai’s achievements as an artist have influenced people for over 200 years. During his lifetime, his work inspired up-and-coming printmakers and book illustrators, and before his death, his prints had made their way to Europe. Impressionist artists, such as Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, replicated themes of Hokusai’s prints in their paintings, and several European painters developed large collections of Japanese prints, in particular, Vincent van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin, Gustav Klimt and Édouard Manet.

In the 1985 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Hokusai is recorded as having “impressed Western artists, critics and art lovers alike, more, possibly, than any other single Asian artist.” This entry proves true today as Hokusai: The Great Picture Book of Everything entices thousands of people to the British Museum. The exhibition runs until 30th January 2022 and tickets, priced at £9, are selling fast. So, book now to avoid disappointment!


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Paula Rego

This Sunday (24th October) marks the end of the UK’s largest and most comprehensive retrospective of Paula Rego. Thousands of people have visited Tate Britain to view the exhibition, with tickets regularly selling out each day. Yet, Paula Rego is not a well-known name amongst the average Londoner, so the popularity of the temporary display of work was surprising. Rego is a Portuguese-British visual artist whose work style has evolved from Abstract to Representational over her sixty-year career. Her imaginative power has revolutionised how women are represented in art, and her work often reflects feminism alongside folk themes from her native Portugal.

Paula Rego was born on 26th January 1935 in Lisbon, Portugal. At the time, the Estado Novo (New State) controlled the country, suppressing political freedom and drastically limiting the rights of women. Rego’s anti-fascist father and mother moved to England in 1936 for work, leaving the young Paula in Portugal with her grandmother. Rego learned many Portuguese folk-tales from her grandmother, many of which later made their way into her artwork.

Rego’s parents returned to Portugal in 1939 at the outbreak of the Second World War. They had become Anglophiles during their time in England and sent their daughter to the English-speaking Saint Julian’s School in Carcavelos. Rego attended Saint Julian’s from 1945 until 1951, after which her parents sent her to England to a finishing school in Sevenoaks, Kent.

Noticing Rego was unhappy at the finishing school, her British guardian, David Phillips, helped her gain a place at the Slade School of Fine Art in 1952, which she attended until 1956. Rego had started drawing as a child, but this marked a turning point in her life. Through her studies, Rego developed her skills as an artist. She also began an affair with a fellow student, Victor Willing (1928-88). Rego allegedly had several abortions during their affair because Willing, married to Hazel Whittington at the time, threatened to abandon her and return to his wife if she kept the child.

Following the conclusion of her studies, Rego moved to Ericeira, Portugal, in 1957, where she decided to carry her latest pregnancy to full term. Willing eventually joined her after the birth of their child and officially divorced his wife in 1959. The couple married the same year and had two more children. They divided their time between Portugal and Britain, where Rego purchased a house in Camden Town, London.

Rego’s art career officially began in 1962, when she began exhibiting with The London Group, an art society based in London. Founded in 1913, many British artists have joined as members, including Vanessa Bell (1879-1961), Sir Frank Bowling (b. 1934), Sir Jacob Epstein (1880-1959), Dame Barbara Hepworth (1903-75), David Hockney (b. 1937), L. S. Lowry (1887-1976), and Walter Sickert (1860-1942). In 1965, she took part in the Six Artists exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.

During the 1960s and 70s, Rego produced collages made from fragments of newspapers, magazines and drawings. She looked at newspaper articles, proverbs and children’s stories for inspiration, but also focused on her experiences. The Firemen of Alijo (1966), for example, was inspired by a group of firemen she saw in Alijo, Portugal, while staying with her parents in 1965. It was winter, her father was terminally ill with cancer, there was no heating in the house, and everyone felt grumpy. While wandering around the town, Rego noted how poor the area was and saw a group of firemen huddled together to keep warm. They were unpaid volunteers with soot-stained skin and no shoes on their feet. She produced The Firemen of Alijo in homage to them.

Most of the collaged fragments of The Firemen of Alijo are drawings, which Rego cut up and stuck onto a painted canvas. The abstract firemen have strange body features, such as a badger’s head and a seal’s tail. Bird-like figures represent fighting angels, which Rego included to represent the medieval history of the town of Alijo. For many people, the artwork looks like an abstract assortment of shapes and lines, but for Rego, it depicts human emotions, nightmares and desires. Rego paints “to give terror a face”.

Between 1971 and 1978, Rego produced artwork for seven solo shows in Portugal. These included a series of illustrations of traditional Portuguese folk tales. She continued the surrealist tradition of combining fragments, fine art and popular culture to create abstract scenes, which meant more to the artist than the viewer. Around this time, Rego experienced Jungian therapy, which made her more aware of the influences on human behaviour. Through her collages, she tried to show the emotions the characters were feeling as well as why they felt that way.

Rego abandoned collage in the 1980s and started making bold paintings with thick outlines. Many artworks from this era feature animals with human characteristics. Whilst the caricature-like figures appear more playful, they explore the darker, emotional side of human relationships. Several of Rego’s paintings from the early 1980s reflect her childhood and experiences.

Paula Rego once stated, “to do a picture I always need a story to start with, although as I go along the story may change or the picture may change.” Nanny, Small Bears and Bogeyman (1982) is based on the autobiography of Elias Canetti (1905-94), a German author who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1981. Canetti wrote about his childhood nanny, whose boyfriend threatened to cut out Canetti’s tongue. In Rego’s painting, the bogeyman, on the left, is the boyfriend, and the young Canetti is the small bear. The nanny holds the small bear, preventing him from escaping. Rego interpreted the nanny as the evil character in the story because she did nothing to protect the little bear from her boyfriend.

In 1984, Rego made independent and rebellious girls the main subjects of her artwork. Women in Portugal had very little freedom of expression under the fascist dictatorship of Prime Minister António de Oliveira Salazar (1889-1970). Rego depicted these women, some more subtly than others, rebelling against the oppression. She also expressed female sexual desire, which may stem from her husband’s many affairs during their marriage. During the 1980s, Victor Willing became increasingly unwell with multiple sclerosis and could no longer provide Rego with physical love.

During the 1980s, Rego had a series of solo exhibitions in London, Bristol and Portugal. Her paintings of rebellious women were featured in retrospectives at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon and the Serpentine Gallery in London in 1988. In the same year, Victor Willing passed away, and Rego completed one of her largest artworks, The Dance. Rego hoped to include The Dance in the exhibitions but, due to circumstances beyond her control, did not finish it on time.

As well as The Dance, Tate Britain displayed several preparatory drawings, which Rego donated to the gallery when they purchased the painting in 1989. Rego experimented with several combinations of dancing figures, including seven women jubilantly jumping around. The final composition features eight figures of various ages dancing on a moonlit beach. Several critics have developed explanations for the scene, including the cycle of femininity and Portuguese folk festivals. The fortress-like structure resembles a military fort on the Estoril coast in Caxias, used as a prison and torture site during the rule of Estado Novo.

In 1990, Rego became the first Associate Artist at the National Gallery, London. Eight years after her residency, the gallery asked her to produce something that responded to a painting in the National Gallery. Rego chose a cycle of paintings by William Hogarth (1697-1764) called Marriage-A-la-Mode, which told a tale of arranged marriage, betrayal and death. Rego reworked the story to resemble the Portuguese culture and memories of her youth. Whilst Hogarth’s narrative contained six canvases, Rego limited herself to three, creating a triptych for the National Gallery’s Encounters: New Art from Old exhibition in 2000.

The first panel of the triptych, The Betrothal, shows two mothers discussing the future marriage of their young children. The adolescent boy clutches at his mother as though scared about the prospect of marriage. The little girl, on the opposite side of the painting, slouches in her chair, bored with the conversation. Neither boy nor girl has any say in the matter about their future. The middle panel, Lessons, is based on Hogarth’s fourth panel, The Toilette. Instead of a dressing room, Rego painted a beauty parlour where the girl, now a teenager, watches her mother have her hair done. Rego described the scene as an apprenticeship in femininity, a lesson about how to be a woman.

The final panel, The Shipwreck, represents Hogarth’s fifth scene, The Bagnio. In Hogarth’s story, the husband falls to the ground after being shot by his wife’s lover. In Rego’s version, the boy, now a married man, has frittered away all his money. He is literally being supported by his wife, the girl in the previous paintings, whose meagre belongings are scattered around the room. The woman stares into the distance, contemplating an uncertain future as this destitute man’s wife.

Before appropriating Hogarth’s narrative paintings, Rego based many of her work during the early 1990s on nursery rhymes and stories. Her Nursery Rhymes series of prints was later published as a book. Following the traditions of earlier artists such as Beatrix Potter (1866-1943), Rego created a fantastic realistic illustration for each nursery rhyme, often dressing animals up as humans. Yet, as is the nature of some rhymes, there is a hint of the sinister in her drawings. Rego produced prints of 26 nursery rhymes, including Three Blind MiceBaa Baa Black SheepHey Diddle DiddleLittle Miss MuffetThe Grand Old Duke of York, and Polly Put the Kettle On.

As well as nursery rhymes, Rego explored the darker side of fairy tales, such as Pinocchio, Peter Pan and Snow White. When Rego watched Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) as a child, she described it as “like discovering a new world”. Yet, it is also a frightening story for young viewers, where good and evil coexist in a disturbing atmosphere. Whilst the seven dwarfs are playful, the evil queen plots murder.

The stories of Pinocchio and Peter Pan are equally disturbing. Rego took inspiration from Disney’s version of The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi (1826-90), in which unruly children are punished, transformed into donkeys and sold into slavery. In Peter Pan, written by J. M. Barrie (1860-1937), lost children wind up on a desert island where pirates wish to kill their eponymous leader. Rego also produced artwork based on adult works of fiction, such as Haunted by Joyce Carol Oates (b.1938) and The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928).

In 1994, Rego started focusing, once again, on female figures. Her style had drastically changed since the 1970s, going from collages to almost realistic paintings. With pastels, Rego painted independent women who broke stereotypes and did not cater for the male gaze. Rego began working with the model Lila Nunes and produced a series called Dog Women, in which the sitter demonstrated primal needs and emotions.

Another series, Bride, focused on the sexual side of a marital contract. Instead of Nunes, Rego used her daughter Victoria as the model. The paintings show a less aggressive emotional state than Dog Women. Still wearing her wedding dress, the bride waits for her husband after the wedding ceremony but with no sense of joy or anticipation.

Without collage or surrealism to hide behind, Rego’s artwork became more shocking and raw. In 1998, she painted an untitled series depicting women in the aftermath of illegal abortions in Portugal. At the time of painting, women were not allowed to have abortions except for medical reasons; those who did faced up to three years in prison. Around the same time, Rego painted a series based on The Crime of Father Amaro by José Maria de Eça de Queiroz (1845-1900), which portrayed women as the victims of abuse at the hands of men.

In the 2000s, Rego’s art style changed again. Using props, live models and handmade “dollies”, Rego set up scenes in her studio, which she then drew in pastel. Many works from this period return to Rego’s memories of Portugal, particularly dictatorship, war, and the treatment of women. Others were inspired by contemporary news items, such as the war in Iraq, which began in 2003. A photograph of a screaming girl in a white dress running from an explosion published in the Guardian newspaper at the beginning of the war inspired one of Rego’s paintings.

“I thought I would do a picture about these children getting hurt, but I turned them into rabbits’ heads, like masks. It’s very difficult to do it with humans, it doesn’t get the same kind of feel at all. It seemed more real to transform them into creatures.” Simply titled War, Rego transformed the Guardian‘s photo into a scene of rabbits and other hybrid creatures. This echoes some of her previous work, for instance, Nursery Rhymes, featuring anthropomorphic characters.

War was first shown at the Marlborough Gallery, London, as part of an exhibition called Jane Eyre and Other Stories, in October 2003. The following year, Royal Mail commissioned Rego to create a set of Jane Eyre stamps. These saw a return to the style of prints Rego produced in the early 1990s.

Rego’s most recent works focus on abusive acts, such as the trafficking of women, female genital mutilation, and other appalling news stories. These artworks are hard to look at and study for any length of time, which reflects people’s reactions to reading and hearing about such abuse. It is difficult to understand why people commit these horrific acts, and Rego wishes to open the public’s eyes, hoping someone, anyone, will do something about it.

The exhibition at Tate Britain is the largest and most comprehensive retrospective of Paula Rego’s work to date. Yet, at 86, Rego is still producing art, so there could well be a larger exhibition in the future. As a result of her work, Rego has received honorary degrees from the Winchester School of Art, the University of St Andrews, the University of East Anglia, the Rhode Island School of Design, the London Institute, the University of Oxford and Roehampton University. In 2010, Rego was made a Dame of the British Empire in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.


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The Story of A Bear

Once upon a time, Michael Bond was doing some last-minute shopping in Oxford Street when it started to snow. Seeking shelter, he found himself in the toy department of Selfridges. Sitting on a shelf was a very lonely, small bear. Michael thought to himself, “I can’t leave him there all over Christmas,” purchased the bear and took him home. Michael named the bear Paddington after the nearest railway station to his house.

A few weeks later, Michael sat at his typewriter, waiting for inspiration to strike, when he looked up to see the little bear sitting on the mantelpiece. Remembering the moment he found the bear, Michael wondered, “what would happen if a real bear landed up on Paddington station.” So, he began to write.

Until 31st October 2021, the British Library is hosting “a small but perfectly formed exhibition celebrating everyone’s favourite bear.” For more than 60 years, Paddington Bear has entertained children (and adults) all over the world. The exhibition provides fun activities for younger visitors, whilst older visitors take a trip down memory lane and rediscover the many faces of Paddington that they have come to know and love.

Michael Bond (1926-2017) started writing about Paddington Bear while working as a BBC television cameraman on the children’s television show Blue Peter. When not at work, Bond sat at his typewriter, writing about an anthropomorphised bear from “darkest Peru” with a fondness for marmalade sandwiches. Unsure whether anyone would publish his story, Bond entrusted his manuscript to his agent at the BBC, Harvey Unna (1911-2003). While at work a few days later, Bond received a phone call from Barbara Ker Wilson (1929-2020) at Collins publishing company. She told Bond she read the entire story in one sitting and enjoyed the simple style and “endearing central character”.

Barbara Ker Wilson suggested Peggy Fortnum (1919-2016) as the illustrator for Bond’s children’s book. Her pen-and-ink drawings captured Paddington’s charm and worked perfectly with the storyline. On 13th October 1958, A Bear Called Paddington went on sale. It proved extremely popular and sold out by Christmas.


Paddington Bear is a friendly, polite bear from Peru, where he lived with his Aunt Lucy. Before he travelled to England, Paddington’s name was Pastuso, the same name as his uncle. Sadly, his uncle passed away, and it was time for Aunt Lucy to move into the Home for Retired Bears in Lima. So, Paddington set off with his hat on his head, his suitcase in hand, and a label around his neck that said, “Please look after this bear. Thank you.”

Bond’s idea for Paddington’s travelling attire was inspired by his memories of the children evacuated during World War II. They all wore labels around their necks and carried their possessions in small suitcases.

After travelling as a stowaway on a lifeboat and eating copious amounts of marmalade, the little bear arrived at Paddington Station, where the first story begins. Paddington is found on the platform by the Brown family, who, after hearing his story, take him home to 32 Windsor Gardens near Notting Hill. The Brown’s find Pastuso difficult to pronounce, so name the bear Paddington, after the train station.

Peggy Fortnum’s illustrations for the Paddington books were black and white, although other artists added colour later. During the 1990s, R. W. Alley produced coloured drawings for new editions of the books. Alley’s style is similar to Fortnum’s, and he made sure Paddington was still recognisable in his blue duffle coat and hat.

Alley depicted Mr Henry Brown as a kind-looking ageing man with glasses and a moustache. According to the story, he is a hapless but well-meaning City of London Risk Analyst. He gladly welcomed the curious little bear into his home, as did his wife, Mary. Mrs Brown is more seriously-minded than her husband, but still just as friendly. Michael Bond based Mr and Mrs Brown on his parents. His father was an anxious man, whereas his mother was more impulsive.

The Brown children, Judy and Jonathan, were thrilled to welcome Paddington to the family. The Browns were meeting Judy off the train from boarding school at Paddington Station when they found the bear.

During the 1960s and 70s, children’s television shows, such as Jackanory, serialised readings of the stories. In 1976, the BBC asked Bond to write a television series about Paddington. Bond based the storylines on some of the comedic incidents from the books. The series was animated by Anglo-French stop-motion director Ivor Wood (1932-2004), who also worked on The Magic Roundabout, The Wombles and Postman Pat.

For the series, Wood suggested creating a puppet of Paddington, including his hat, duffle coat, label and suitcase. Stop-motion animation is created by taking a series of photographs showing the characters in slightly different positions. When the shots are shown rapidly, one after the other, the characters appear as though moving. Since stop-motion is a lengthy, time-consuming process, Wood proposed the rest of the characters and background scenery should be two-dimensional drawings. Only Paddington and the things he touches were three-dimensional, for instance, when Mr Brown handed Paddington a 2D jar of marmalade, it became 3D when Paddington touched it.

As well as the Brown family, there are many characters in the Paddington stories. Most people Paddington met were very welcoming, but others needed reminding to be kind with a hard stare. Paddington received a mixed reception from the Brown’s housekeeper, Mrs Bird. Whilst she was often strict and got annoyed with Paddington’s mishaps, she also gave him good advice and protected him from harm. Bond based Mrs Bird on Mrs Hudson from the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Paddington made many friends in the local community, particularly the market stallholders in Portobello Road. Mrs Bird often sent Paddington to buy fruit and vegetables from the traders. The road is also famous for its antique stalls and the location of the shop belonging to the fictional antique dealer, Mr Samuel Gruber.

Mr Gruber was a polite Hungarian immigrant who often called Paddington “Mr Brown”. He understood how Paddington felt about finding himself in a strange country and soon became Paddington’s best friend. Bond wanted Paddington to have a friend with whom he could relate and, despite the age difference, Mr Gruber fit the bill. Most mornings, Paddington visited Mr Gruber for “elevenses”, and they occasionally took trips around London and beyond to see the sights.

In some of the later stories, readers learn more about Paddington’s Aunt Lucy. She looked after him when his parents died in an earthquake, taught him English and told him all about England. In 1978, Gabrielle Designs, the company granted the first licence to manufacture a Paddington Bear soft toy, produced a toy version of Aunt Lucy. She has a similar hat to Paddington but wears clothing more suited to Peruvian culture.

Paddington told the Browns about Aunt Lucy in the very first story. When he arrived at 32 Windsor Gardens, he wrote to Lucy to tell her he had arrived safely in England. He also told her his new name, which Lucy said she liked in her response. Paddington and Lucy often kept each other informed through letters and postcards. These were published in the book Love from Paddington in 2014, containing illustrations by both Fortnum and Alley.

Paddington tried to be nice to everyone and never wished to upset anyone. Unfortunately, there is one character that always refused to be friendly. This was Mr Reginald Curry, the Brown’s bad-tempered neighbour. He is described as a nosy, arrogant, penny-pinching man who often ordered Paddington to run errands for him. Rather than call Paddington by name, Mr Curry rudely called him “Bear”. Mr Curry frequently received his comeuppance as the victim of Paddington’s misadventures.

The bear Michael Bond purchased in 1956 was remarkably small in comparison to be bear depicted in the Paddington Books. Even the version made by Gabrielle Designs is more than double the size of Bond’s bear. The toy wears bright red wellington boots, which have since become synonymous with Paddington. In the books, Paddington was usually barefoot, only wearing boots in the snow.

When the Browns first met Paddington, all he wore was a “funny kind of hat” and a label round his neck. Paddington told them the hat belonged to his uncle in Peru, who passed away before the story began. Paddington often kept an emergency marmalade sandwich under the hat.

It is difficult to imagine Paddington without his blue duffle coat, but he did not arrive in London wearing one. The next day, Mrs Brown took Paddington on a shopping expedition, where she bought him a blue duffle coat with a red lining. Bond based his description of the coat on one he used to wear.

As of 2021, over thirty official Paddington books have been released. Michael Bond finished the final book, Paddington at St. Paul’s, shortly before his death in 2017. It was officially released on 27th June 2018 to mark the anniversary of the day that Michael Bond died and the 60th anniversary of A Bear Called Paddington. Throughout these books, Paddington had many adventures and mishaps, learned new things, and, most importantly, had fun. Several artists have taken on the job of illustrating the books, but they all try to replicate Peggy Fortnum’s original Paddington.

David Mckee (b.1935), the author and illustrator of Elmer the Patchwork Elephant, produced illustrations for a few of the Paddington books, including the story Paddington’s Busy Day (1987). Whilst the illustration style is different to Fortnum’s drawings, Paddington is recognisable in his hat, duffle coat and wellington boots. One artwork on display at the British Library shows Paddington’s attempt at cleaning the loft. Things did not go to plan, and Paddington put his foot through a loose floorboard, losing all his marmalade sandwiches in the process.

In 1971, Kazimierz Piotrowski translated some of the Paddington books into Polish. Jan Marcin Szancer (1902-73), a well-known children’s illustrator in Poland, provided the illustrations for these versions. Paddington looks quite different without his blue coat, but he still wears a hat, albeit yellow. The drawing style is unlike the English pen and ink versions, yet the story remains the same. The illustration on the Polish version of the first Paddington book represents chapter five, Paddington and “The Old Master”. In this story, Paddington cleaned one of the Browns’ paintings to see if an older one was hiding beneath it. There was not, but by “cleaning” the canvas, Paddington created a new painting, which went on to win a competition.

During the 1970s, the versatile draughtsman Fred Banbery (1913-99) worked alongside Bond to produce picture book versions of the Paddington books for younger children. Whilst the original books contained illustrations, they did not class as picture books. Banbery’s artwork covered the entire page, leaving space for the simplified text written by Bond. These books became known collectively as the “Young Set”.

As part of the exhibition, screens played clips from a couple of films and television shows based on Paddington Bear. Following the success of the 1976 stop-motion series, Hanna-Barbera Productions produced an animated cartoon version, which first aired in 1989. The stories are based on the books but with the extra character David, Judy and Jonathan’s American cousin. In 1997, a Canadian company released an alternative cartoon series called The Adventures of Paddington Bear.

In 2019, StudioCanal and Heyday Films released a three-dimensional computer-generated cartoon of The Adventures of Paddington. So far, two series have aired on Nickelodeon, and a third is in development. The series brings Paddington into the 21st century with up-to-date technology. Older fans may dislike the contemporary twist, but it is successfully introducing the beloved bear to younger generations. This year, the series won a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Pre-School Children’s Animated Series. Paddington Bear is voiced by Ben Whishaw (b.1980), and the theme music is written and performed by Gary Barlow (b.1971).

Ben Whishaw is also the voice of Paddington in the recent Warner Bros. film adaptations, Paddington (2014) and Paddington 2 (2017). Originally, Colin Firth (b.1960) was announced as the voice of Paddington, but the actor did not think his voice was right for the role. Many well-known actors starred in the films, including Julie Walters (Mrs Bird), Jim Broadbent (Mr Gruber) and Peter Capaldi (Mr Curry). Hugh Bonneville (b.1963) starred as Mr Brown, whose personality differed from the books. Instead of welcoming Paddington, Mr Brown initially refuses to let Paddington move in with his family. A third film is expected to release in 2023.

Paddington Bear has not lost his appeal since he first appeared sixty years ago. Michael Bond’s books are still read and sold across the world, and millions of people have watched the films and television shows. Paddington also crops up in other areas of popular culture, away from the pages and screens. In 2006, Royal Mail released Paddington Bear 1st class stamps as part of their Animal Tales series. Paddington has also appeared on the labels of Robertson’s Golden Shred marmalade. In 2017, to coincide with the release of Paddington 2, Marks & Spencer featured Paddington in their Christmas television advert, in which Paddington mistook a thief for Father Christmas.

Paddington’s most recent endeavour is partnering with UNICEF to help build a world where every child is happy, healthy and safe. For £8 a month, children in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand can receive regular postcards from Paddington telling them about his adventures in foreign countries and the children who live there. The money spent on subscriptions goes directly to UNICEF and the children they support.

When Michael Bond sat down at his typewriter and tapped out the first words of A Bear Called Paddington, he had no idea Paddington would become a worldwide sensation. In 1997, Bond was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), and in 2015, Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his services to children’s literature. As well as Paddington, Bond wrote about the adventures of a guinea pig named Olga da Polga and created the children’s television series The Herbs (1968) and The Adventures of Parsley (1970).

Several items in the British Museum’s exhibition are on loan from Karen Jankel, Michael Bond’s daughter. Jankel helped Bond write the book Paddington Goes to Hospital (2000), aimed at reassuring children about overnight stays in hospitals. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Jankel spoke out saying, “We’re all going through the most terrible trauma at the moment and I think if everybody could be more like Paddington we will probably come through a bit more unscathed.” Those familiar with the Paddington stories will likewise agree.

The British Library wished to create a trip down memory lane whilst also appealing to the younger generation. They succeeded in both aims and proved that Paddington is one of the world’s most-loved fictional bears. The exhibition also introduced the author, who for many years has been little more than a name. It is often easy to forget that authors are “normal” people with lives of their own. Although Bond passed away a few years ago, Paddington will continue to delight young and old readers for many years to come.

Paddington: The Story of a Bear is open until Sunday 31st October 2021. Tickets cost £8 for adults and £3 for children age 12-17. Children aged 11 or younger may visit for free. The British Library recommends pre-booking tickets.


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Noël Coward’s Art and Style

A recent exhibition at the Guildhall Art Gallery in London has proved popular with old and new fans of the English playwright Noël Coward. Extended due to popular demand until 23rd December 2021, Noël Coward: Art and Style celebrates Coward’s life and works through a vibrant display of never-before-seen materials from the Coward Archive. The exhibition marks the 100th anniversary of Noël Coward’s West End debut as a 19-year-old playwright.

Noël Pierce Coward was born in Teddington, south-west London, on 16th December 1899 to Arthur Sabin Coward (1856-1937), a piano salesman, and Violet Agnes Coward (1863-1954). Coward received little formal education but started appearing in amateur plays from the age of seven. His mother encouraged his passion for the stage and sent him to a dance academy in London, despite low family funds. In 1911, Coward received his first professional acting role in The Goldfish by Lila Field (d.1954).

Over the following few years, Noël Coward starred in roles for children and teenagers in several plays, including Where the Rainbow Ends at the Garrick Theatre and A Little Fowl Play at the London Coliseum. He was also cast as Slightly, a Lost Boy in Peter Pan.

In 1914, the society painter Philip Streatfeild (1879-1915) took Coward under his wing and introduced him to high society friends. Sadly, Streatfeild passed away the following year from tuberculosis, but Coward’s new friends encouraged him to continue to perform. During the First World War, Coward starred in The Happy Family (1916) at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Charley’s Aunt (1916), and The Saving Grace (1917).

During the early war years, Coward also experimented with art. He filled many notebooks with ink and watercolour drawings, the majority featuring satirical caricatures and stage costumes. In hindsight, these drawings demonstrate the future dramatist’s understanding of the importance of clothing on the stage. Clothes can transform their wearers into particular characters and personas.

In 1918, Coward was conscripted into the Air Force but was discharged after nine months because he was deemed at risk of contracting tuberculosis. Coward immediately threw himself back into the world of theatre, collaborating on two plays with his friend Esmé Wynne: Ida Collaborates and Women and Whisky. He followed this with his first solo effort, The Rat Trap, which eventually premiered in 1926.

Coward’s first full-length play was I’ll Leave It to You, which opened in the West End in 1920. It received mixed reviews, and Coward returned to acting for a couple of years. His first real success as a playwright occurred in 1923 with The Young Idea, in which he also starred. Coward’s first financial success, on the other hand, was with The Vortex (1924), a play about a nymphomaniac socialite and her cocaine-addicted son. As well as writing the script, Coward acted the part of the son and raised the funds to produce the play.

The Vortex met with success in London and America, and Coward hired his first business manager, Jack Wilson (1899-1961). Rumours suggest Wilson and Coward became lovers, which is why Coward forgave Wilson when he later stole money. Wilson was the General Manager for the production of Coward’s 1930s comedy Private Lives and the producer of Tonight at 8.30 (1936), Set to Music (1939) and Blithe Spirit (1941).

By 1929, Coward was one of the world’s highest-earning playwrights, with an annual income of £50,000. This is the approximate equivalent of £3,000,000 today. Despite the Great Depression of the early 1930s, Coward thrived. Furniture and items from Coward’s house, which are now in the Coward Archive, demonstrate the extent of his wealth. One example is the Wings of Time, a tin sculpture Coward purchased in an auction at Herstmonceux Castle, Sussex, in 1929. Produced in the 17th century, the wings extend from an hourglass, which Coward saw as an allegory for the passing of time. He often spoke about the passing of time, and the wings soon became both a treasured possession and a personal signature. The wings usually hung above Coward’s fireplace, but today they are usually on display at the Noël Coward Theatre.

When the Second World War broke out in 1939, Coward took a break from the theatre to participate in official war work. He began by running the British propaganda office in Paris, after which he started working for British intelligence. His main task involved using his fame and popularity in America to persuade the USA to support Britain in the war. Although he could not reveal that he was working on behalf of the Secret Service, Coward’s name ended up in the Nazi’s Sonderfahndungsliste G.B.(“Special Search List Great Britain), more commonly known as the Black Book. It listed British residents the Nazi’s wished to arrest and/or kill when (if) they invaded Britain. Other people on the list included Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), Nancy Astor (1879-1964), Clement Attlee (1883-1967), Winston Churchill (1874-1965), Sylvia Pankhurst (1882-1960) and H. G. Wells (1866-1946).

After the Americans joined the war, Churchill instructed Coward to entertain the troops at home. For reasons unknown, Churchill disliked Coward and forbade King George VI (1895-1952) from awarding Coward a knighthood for his services with British Intelligence. Begrudgingly, Coward toured, acted and sang around the world, following British troops across all continents.

During the Blitz, Coward’s London house was destroyed, so he took up temporary residence at the Savoy Hotel in the Strand. While sitting in an air raid shelter, Coward and his fellow musicians partook in impromptu cabarets to distract their frightened companions. Coward also penned several war-themed songs, such as London Pride and Don’t Let’s Be Beastly to the Germans.

When not entertaining troops and civilians, Coward worked alongside the film-producer David Lean (1908-91) to direct In Which We Serve, a British patriotic war film. Coward was inspired by Captain Lord Louis Mountbatten (1900-79), who was in command of the destroyer HMS Kelly, which sank during the Battle of Crete (1941). The film proved popular, and Coward won an honorary certificate of merit at the 1943 Academy Awards ceremony.

Coward also wrote Blithe Spirit during the war years, which some critics say is his greatest work. The play was first seen in the West End in 1941 and was recently adapted into a film starring Dame Judi Dench (b.1934) as Madame Arcati, an eccentric medium and clairvoyant. The main character, novelist Charles Condomine, invites Madame Arcati to a séance in the hope it will provide material for his new book. Instead, the ghost of Condomine’s ex-wife appears during the session and endeavours to ruin his marriage to his second wife.

Although Coward continued to write plays after the war, they were not as successful as his pre-war work. He wrote on a mixture of themes, such as political comedy, romance, satire, and musicals. Unfortunately, the musicals Pacific 1860 (1946) and Ace of Clubs (1949) were financial failures.

During the Second World War, Coward met the photographer Cecil Beaton (1904-80), who had long envied Coward’s success as a playwright. Unable to write satisfactory plays, Beaton became a costume and set designer instead. Their wartime meeting eventually led to a collaboration on the production of Coward’s play Quadrille in 1952. Beaton revealed to Coward, “it has always been my ambition to do scenery and costumes for one of your plays,” and set to work designing appropriate Victorian sitting rooms.

Set in the mid-Victorian era, Quadrille is a romantic comedy about an English aristocrat and the wife of an American businessman. Whilst The Manchester Guardian critiqued the play as “affectionate and sincere as well as amusing and elegant”, The Daily Express deemed it “a waste of expensive talent”. Nonetheless, Beaton’s costume designs earned him his first Tony Award.

Despite his lack of success, Coward remained a high profile figure, continuing to perform in plays and cabaret acts. In 1955, Coward appeared in Las Vegas for the first time and released the album Noël Coward at Las Vegas. The album reached number 14 in the Billboard albums chart and features songs written or arranged by Coward. Notable songs include Mad Dogs and EnglishmenWorld Weary, and Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love by Cole Porter (1891-1964).

Coward’s most successful post-war musical was Sail Away (1961), set on a luxury cruise liner. He also directed a musical version of Blithe Spirit, called High Spirits (1964), and collaborated with Beaton on Look After Lulu! (1959). Coward also published his first novel, Pomp and Circumstance (1960), which received critical acclaim. Coward’s final stage success was Suite in Three Keys (1966), a trilogy set in a hotel penthouse suite.

Although no longer writing as prolifically, Coward continued to act, including in notable films, such as Around the World in 80 Days (1956), Our Man in Havana (1959), and The Italian Job (1969). Gradually, Coward drifted away from the stage and screen, turning down many prestigious roles. He declined the offer to play the king in the original stage production of The King and I and replied, “No, no, no, a thousand times, no,” when asked if he would like to play Dr. No in the 1962 film of the same name.

Today, it is accepted that Noël Coward was homosexual but due to the convention of his times, Coward never publicly admitted to the fact. Coward believed private business should not be discussed in public, so it is not easy to determine with whom he had a close relationship. Yet, many agree that Coward’s most important relationship was with the South African stage and film actor Graham Payn (1918-2005). The exhibition at the Guildhall goes as far as to say Payn was one of the greatest loves of Coward’s life.

When Coward wrote his plays, he often envisaged Payn as the leading man. He also composed songs to suit Payn’s voice. The two remained almost inseparable until Coward’s death, after which Payn organised the Coward Archive. It is thanks to Payn that many of Coward’s personal items remain in safekeeping today.

When reading diaries and letters, Coward’s generosity is evident. He not only cared for his friends but many disadvantaged people. From 1934 until 1956, Coward was the president of the Actors’ Orphanage, a home and school for many parent-less children. The Orphanage received support from the theatrical industry, hence its name. Coward expressed genuine concern for the children’s welfare and improved their living conditions during his term as president. Coward actively sought out patrons for the orphanage, often throwing garden parties where the public could rub shoulders with both actual and theatrical royalty. On these occasions, Coward sported a top hat and white gloves, which became one of his signature outfits.

When not dressed up for parties, Coward could often be found wearing a dressing gown with a cigarette in hand. He first wore a dressing gown onstage in The Vortex and reused the fashion in several other plays, including Private Lives and Present Laughter (1942). It soon became Coward’s signature look on stage, so he incorporated dressing gowns into his everyday life.

When not working, Coward retreated to his country house, Goldenhurst Farm, in Aldington, Kent. He purchased the property in 1926 and lived there until 1956. Post-war tax regimes increased the expense of running the large house, so Coward sold up and left the country. Today, the house is divided into two dwellings, one of which belongs to the British comedian Julian Clary (b. 1959).

Coward initially settled in Bermuda before buying a house in Jamaica. He lived near James Bond author Ian Fleming’s (1908-64) Jamaican residence, and the two became good friends. Fleming and Coward both found Jamaica a welcome retreat from the world of literature, and Coward used it as an opportunity to focus on his amateur hobby of painting.

From childhood, Coward loved to draw and paint. He often drew ideas for characters and costumes, but over time he left the theatrical subject behind, preferring to paint still-lifes and landscapes. Coward found the different lights and colours in tropical landscapes fascinating, particularly in Jamaica. Although he jokingly referred to his painting style as “touch and Gauguin,” Coward captured the endless vistas of sea and sky, the bright sunlight and the warmth of the people.

Although Coward welcomed the break away from the theatre, he did not stop writing altogether. Coward wrote some of his final plays in Jamaica, only returning to England to help direct and produce them. He also bought a house in Les Avants, Switzerland, where many celebrities sought solace. Coward’s neighbours included David Niven (1910-83), Richard Burton (1925-84), Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011) and Julie Andrews (b. 1935).

In 1970, Coward finally received his knighthood. It has never been ascertained why Churchill denied him the badge after the Second World War, although some suggest Churchill may have objected to Coward’s sexual orientation. Sir Noël Coward graciously accepted the long awaited award and attended the ceremony at Buckingham Palace with two close friends, actor Joyce Carey (1898-1993) and designer Gladys Calthrop (1894-1980). Coward often referred to Carey, Calthrop and a couple of other friends as his “chosen family”.

Following his knighthood, Coward was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and received a Tony Award for lifetime achievement. In 1972, he gained an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from the University of Sussex. Unfortunately, Coward’s poor health limited his enjoyment of these achievements. Coward suffered from memory loss and arteriosclerosis, which contributed to his death from heart failure on 26th March 1973, at age 73.

Coward died at his home in Jamaica and was subsequently buried on the island. In London, a memorial service took place at St Martin-in-the-Fields in London, where the Poet Laureate, John Betjeman (1906-84), John Gielgud (1904-2000), Laurence Olivier (1907-89) and Yehudi Menuhin (1916-99) all read or played music in his honour. A decade later, the Queen Mother (1900-2002) unveiled a memorial stone in Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey. When Graham Payn thanked her for coming, she replied, “I came because he was my friend.”

The accolades did not end there. In 2006, the recently closed Albery Theatre in St Martin’s Lane, London, reopened under the new name, The Noël Coward Theatre. Before then, the Queen Mother unveiled a statue of Coward in the foyer of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1998. Statues of Coward are also displayed in New York, Jamaica, and Teddington, where he was born.

The exhibition at the Guildhall Art Gallery is just one of the many ways Coward has been honoured since his death almost 50 years ago. “Even the youngest of us will know, in fifty years’ time, exactly what we mean by ‘a very Noel Coward sort of person’,” said English theatre critic Kenneth Tynan (1927-80) in 1964. Noël Coward: Art & Style proves Tynan right.

Booking is required to visit the Noël Coward: Art & Style exhibition at the Guildhall Art Gallery in London. Entry is free, but the gallery wishes to limit numbers in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The exhibition is open every day until 23rd December 2021.


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Grimsthorpe Castle

Rising majestically within a 3,000-acre park of rolling pastures is Grimsthorpe Castle, a country house in the South Kesteven district of Lincolnshire. Managed by the Grimsthorpe & Drummond Castle Trust, the house and its gardens are open to the public from Sunday to Thursday. Visitors enjoy long walks around lakes and a woodland landscaped by famous gardener Capability Brown (1716-83). Whilst the Trust welcomes everyone to explore the park and building, it remains the home of Jane Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby, 28th Baroness Willoughby de Eresby. Grimsthorpe has been the home of the de Eresby family since 1516.

Grimsthorpe Castle is not a castle in the conventional sense of the word, but any buildings with crenellated towers had the right to apply for castle status. The impressive front of the house was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh (1664-1726), who is perhaps best known as the designer of Blenheim Palace. Yet, Grimsthorpe dates back much further than the 17th-century. During the 13th century, Gilbert de Gant, Earl of Lincoln (1126-56), built a defensive tower on the land, known as King John’s Tower. Since the dates of Gilbert de Gant and King John (1166-1216) do not match up, the name came later than the construction.

When Gilbert de Gant died in 1156, the tower fell into the hands of the Earl of Chester and Grimsthorpe. Ranulph de Blondeville, 4th Earl of Chester (1172-1232), who worked for the king, may have been the person to name the tower “King John’s Tower”. After this, the ownership remained obscure until the late 15th century, when it belonged to Lord Francis Lovel (1456-87). Lovel supported King Richard III (1452-85) during the War of the Roses. Legend says he was the king’s best friend and, after Richard was defeated by Henry VII (1457-1509), his property was confiscated by the crown.

In 1516, Henry VIII (1491-1547) granted Grimsthorpe to William Willoughby, 11th Baron Willoughby de Eresby (1482-1526), as a wedding present. Willoughby had recently married María de Salinas (1490-1539), the lady-in-waiting to the king’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536). When Willoughby passed away, his only daughter, Catherine (1518-90), inherited the barony and the estate. Usually, prestigious titles could not pass down to female children, but baronies are one of the few English titles that can descend through the female line.

Catherine was only seven when her father died, yet she inherited Grimsthorpe and 90 other manors in Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, worth around £900 per annum (approximately £500,000 today). She was one of the wealthiest heiresses of her generation, but at the time, too young to claim her estates. Catherine immediately became a Ward of Court, meaning she belonged to the king. In 1528, Henry VIII sold the wardship to his sister’s husband, Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk (1484-1545). Rumours claim Henry intended to make Catherine his wife, but after Mary Tudor (1496-1533), Brandon married her instead.

The Duke of Suffolk set about renovating his wife’s house at Grimsthorpe, using stone from the nearby Vaudey Abbey. The Cistercian abbey, founded in 1147, was demolished following the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536. After rushing to complete the building project, Grimsthorpe Castle was ready to welcome Henry VIII in 1541. The king only stayed one night on his way to York to meet his nephew, James V of Scotland (1512-42), the father of Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-87). The hastily constructed parts of Grimsthorpe Castle began to sink into the ground over the following centuries and required substantial repairs.

After Charles Brandon’s death, Catherine married Richard Bertie (1516-82), who formerly served as her Master of the Horse. The marriage was a love match, and many considered Bertie below Catherine’s status. Bertie was also a religious evangelical, which put the couple in danger when the Catholic Mary I (1516-58) came to the throne. Catherine and Bertie fled to the Continent to escape Mary’s persecution of religious reformers. They were among the 800 “Marian exiles” who fled to Protestant countries, such as the Low Countries, Germany, and Switzerland, between 1553 and 1558.

When Elizabeth I (1533-1603) succeeded her sister as queen, Catherine and her husband returned to Grimsthorpe in 1559 with their children, Susan (b.1554) and Peregrine (1555-1601). Peregrine Bertie was allegedly named for their peregrinations in exile. Susan left Grimsthorpe at the age of 16 when she married Reginald Grey of Wrest (1541-73), who later became the Earl of Kent.

In 1578, Catherine gave Grimsthorpe to her son on his marriage to the English noblewoman Mary de Vere (d.1624). He did not inherit the title of 13th Baron Willoughby de Eresby until his mother’s death two years later. Peregrine spent several years as a soldier, fighting in the Netherlands against the Spanish. He finally returned to England in 1598 but died three years later due to poor health. His eldest son, Robert Bertie (1582-1642), whose godmother was Elizabeth I, inherited Grimsthorpe.

In 1625, Robert Bertie was appointed Lord Great Chamberlain, which allowed him and his heirs to take unwanted furniture from the royal court as a form of payment. It is for this reason that Grimsthorpe Castle contains several thrones, such as those used by Queen Victoria (1819-1901) and the morbidly obese George IV (1762-1830).

In 1626, Robert Bertie was created Earl of Lindsey for his services to the king. During the Civil War, Lindsey fought on behalf of Charles I (1600-49). Whilst participating in the Battle of Edgehill in 1642, Lindsey received a shot through the thigh bone. Despite attempts to save his life, Lindsey died the following morning. The Earldom passed on to his eldest son, Montagu Bertie (1606-1666), who, at that time, was imprisoned in Warwick Castle.

As well as 2nd Earl of Lindsey, Montagu Bertie assumed the name Baron Willoughby de Eresby. He was released from prison 18-months after his father’s death and sold some of the timber from Grimsthorpe to support the Royalist cause. Montagu continued to attend to the king until Charles’s execution in 1649. Legend suggests the Earl of Lindsey was one of several men who tried to buy the king’s life with their own but were refused. Instead, Montagu and three other peers were responsible for burying Charles I’s body.

Parliament fined Montagu Bertie £647.13 for supporting the Royalist cause and a further £300 each year that he lived at Grimsthorpe during the Commonwealth. The 2nd Earl of Lindsey lived to see the monarchy restored and assisted as Lord Great Chamberlain at the Coronation of Charles II (1630-85). As payment, Montagu claimed the Indo-Portuguese bed, which the king used the night before the coronation. The bed still resides at Grimsthorpe Castle today.

Following Montagu Bertie’s death in 1666, his eldest son Robert became the 3rd Earl of Lindsey (1630-1701). Robert’s first marriage to Mary Massingberd provided the Earl with much-needed money, as did his second marriage to Elizabeth Wharton (d. 1669). In 1670, Robert married a third time to Lady Elizabeth Pope, who oversaw the rebuilding of the north front of Grimsthorpe Castle. She also arranged for the re-laying of the formal gardens.

In 1701, the Earldom passed on to another Robert (1660-1723), who received many titles during his lifetime. As well as the 4th Earl of Lindsey, Robert was styled as 17th Baron Willoughby de Eresby until 1706, after which he was made the 1st Marquess of Lindsey by Queen Anne (1665-1714). Following the queen’s death, Robert was created the 1st Duke of Ancaster and Kesteven. This honour could only pass down the male line, so if a future heir only had a daughter, the title would die out.

While living at Grimsthorpe, the Duke of Ancaster and Kesteven employed Stephen Switzer (1682-1745) to design a fortified garden, although little remains of it today. Robert Bertie also hired Sir John Vanbrugh (1664-1726) to create a baroque-style front to the house to celebrate his ennoblement as Duke. The design is Vanbrugh’s last masterpiece and encompasses the two-storey Stone Hall, State Dining Room, State Drawing Rooms and several bedrooms.

The Stone Hall, also known as the Vanbrugh Hall, features full-length paintings of English kings by Sir James Thornhill (1675-1734), which resemble statues standing in alcoves. The State Dining room is lit by an impressive Venetian window and the State Drawing Room contains a chimneypiece thought to be “one of the most elegant in England”. Vanbrugh also redesigned corridors at the south and west of the building, which now contain the thrones used by George I and Victoria, as well as many portraits of the Willoughby de Eresbys.

Vanbrugh died before the completion of Grimsthorpe Castle. It is not known for certain who took up the work, but it was not complete until 1730. When the 1st Duke of Ancaster and Kesteven died, the castle and title passed on to his second eldest son, Peregrine (1686-1742), who oversaw the remainder of the building work. The eldest son predeceased his father by 19 years.

In 1742, the 3rd Duke of Ancaster, also called Peregrine, focused on decorating the interior of Grimsthorpe Castle. He brought the decor up to date by introducing the Rococo style. He also employed Capability Brown to landscape parts of the park. The fishponds that the 1st Earl of Lindsey dug were landscaped into a lake, and a knot garden, hedged rose garden, and a terrace with herbaceous and shrub borders were introduced.

Robert Bertie (1756-79) succeeded his father as 4th Duke of Ancaster and Kesteven but died a year later. With no children, the Dukedom passed on to his uncle Brownlow Bertie (1729-1809). Brownlow had no male children, so the Dukedom became extinct on his death in 1809. His only daughter predeceased him, so the Barony of Willoughby de Eresby passed to the 4th Duke’s eldest sister, Priscilla (1761-1828).

When Priscilla, 21st Baroness Willoughby de Eresby, arrived at Grimsthorpe, she found that the various alterations over the past century had achieved little to improve the building. Vanbrugh’s style of architecture was no longer in fashion, but Priscilla opted to keep it and hired Samuel Page to carry out a sympathetic restoration. Unfortunately, this work removed much of the original features of the Tudor parts of the house.

In 1828, Peter Robert Drummond-Burrell (1782-1865) succeeded his mother as 22nd Baron Willoughby de Eresby. Eight years previously, on the death of his father, he inherited the title 2nd Baron Gwydyr. Peter was a Member of Parliament for Boston in Lincolnshire, initially for the Whigs but changed his allegiance to the Tories later in life. At the Coronation of Queen Victoria, Peter had the privilege of holding the queen’s crown. Through his marriage to Sarah Clementina Drummond (1786-1865), he became the owner of Drummond Castle in Scotland.

When the 22nd Baron inherited Grimsthorpe, his mother’s will stipulated that all the furniture must be sold, and the proceeds shared with his sisters. The majority of the ornate furniture in the house today was purchased by Peter from various locations across the continent with his portion of the money.

Albyric Drummond-Willoughby (1821-70) succeeded his father as both 3rd Baron Gwydyr and 23rd Baron Willoughby de Eresby but died childless. The Barony passed to his older sister, Clementina (1809-88), a 60-year-old widow. She made little use of Grimsthorpe, but her son, Gilbert Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby (1830-1910), used it for occasional winter shooting parties.

Gilbert became the 1st Earl of Ancaster, a title that passed to his eldest son, also called Gilbert (1867-1951). Finally, Grimsthorpe became a family home once more. The British Conservative politician and his American wife, Eloise Lawrence Breese (1882-1953), restored and modernised the house, which had been neglected for over 40 years. Arts and Crafts designer Detmar Blow (1867-1939) introduced bathrooms, electricity and central heating to the building.

When a relative passed away, Grimsthorpe received many furniture and tapestries. Many of the statues in the garden also come from the relative, whose estate at Normanton Park was sold and demolished in 1924. Eloise landscaped parts of the garden to accommodate the new stone arrivals.

During the First World War, the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force used Grimsthorpe Park as an emergency landing ground. The estate was also used during the Second World War by a company of the Parachute Regiment. While they were there, they whitewashed the walls of the Vanbrugh Hall and broke a pane of glass engraved with the names of James I (1566-1625) and his wife, Anne of Denmark (1574-1619). Fortunately, this was the only damage Grimsthorpe received during the war.

On the death of the 2nd Earl of Ancaster, his son James (1907-83) spent the post-war years putting the house back in order. He demolished the service block, which once occupied the courtyard. James’s wife, Nancy Phyllis Louise Astor (1909-1975), oversaw the redecoration of the interior. Her mother, Nancy Astor (1879-1964), the first female Member of Parliament to take her seat, spent her final years at Grimthorpe, passing away on 2nd May 1964.

James’s son and heir Timothy (b. 1936) disappeared at sea in 1962, so his daughter inherited the barony in 1983. Lady (Nancy) Jane Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby (b. 1934) is the 28th Baroness Willoughby de Eresby. Lady Willoughby was one of the six Maids of Honour at the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II (b. 1926). She created the Grimsthorpe and Castle Trust, which safeguards the house, its contents and park. Lady Willoughby never married and thus has no children. There are currently two co-heir presumptive: cousins Sebastian St Maur Miller (b. 1965) and Sir John Aird (b. 1940).

Grimsthorpe Castle remains an impressive building with beautifully landscaped gardens. On the east side of the house, a 19th-century copy of a Gladiator in the Borghese Gardens in Rome stands proudly amongst the carefully landscaped flowerbeds. Several more sculptures are located around the grounds, including those in the Old Walled Garden. Produced as part of an exhibition by the Lettering Arts Trust, the artworks celebrate the beauty of the hand-made letter.

One of the artworks in the Old Walled Garden was originally designed for installation in the Park at West Dean in West Sussex. Inspired by the artist David Crowe, 11-metre high chalk letters spell out the word “fragile”. The artist wanted it to appear carved into the ground to remind people that the world needs to treat the natural environment with care.

Nearby, a labyrinth made of turf and box plants represents medieval beliefs. Unlike a maze, which gives people choices of direction, the labyrinth twists and turns in coils until it reaches the middle. Ancient civilisations believed their lives were mapped out in the stars and that their fate was already decided.

For £7 (£3 for children), Grimsthorpe welcomes visitors to explore the extensive gardens and parklands. Those wishing to visit the house, as well as the gardens, can purchase tickets for £13 (£5.50). Photography is not allowed inside the house, but visitors have the opportunity to join a guided tour and learn all about the rooms and the long line of the de Eresby family.

Tickets must be purchased in advance on the Grimthorpe Website.


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