5 December 2013

Picture This: Children's Illustrated Classics at the British Library

I do like the way that the British Library puts on small exhibitions on the space on the first floor next to the cafe. About a year ago I went to see Murder in the Library and this time it was Children's Illustrated Classics.

This exhibition explored ten classic children’s books from the 20th century including Paddington Bear, Peter Pan and Willy Wonka and classic works such as Just So Stories, The Wind in the Willows and The Hobbit.

Few of these were books that I could claim to have loved as a child (The Wind in the Willows was one that I did) but I did know most of the characters and that familiarity helped.

The exhibition was quite simple; for each book/character there was a brief history of the book and its illustrators and a few examples of their work.

For example, for The Wind in the Willows there was a classic illustration from Ernest H. Shepard and several others including this rather pretty modern one from David Roberts.

One of the interesting things was to see how different artists had reinterpreted familiar characters, sometimes trying to keep faithful to the original look and sometimes doing just the obvious.

The other interesting differences came from the style of the drawings. In the Wind in the Willows example I think that the character, Mole, is very like the original whereas the drawing style is very different from EH Shepard's.

My highlight of the exhibition, surprisingly, was The Secret Garden, a book I had never read. The three illustrations were all very colourful (subsequent illustrators following the style of the first) and utterly charming.

Sadly I cannot show you what they looked like as photography was banned, the exhibition space was out in the open so I could not easily break the rule and they are not on the web. That is a good reason for you to go there and for me to go back.

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