A Collaboration

One of Robert Gibbings’s diversions in ‘Trumpets from Montparnasse’ was his recounting of the request of his friend, Charles Ede of The Folio Society to produce a series of engravings for ‘The Discovery of Tahiti’ by George Robertson. This was a joint project with Gibbings’s publisher, J. M. Dent, published in 1955.

Naturally, this led me to my own copy of this work, in fact a 1973 reprint. I finished reading it this morning.

The transparent jacket to this slender volume reveals the embossed designs on the front and back boards and the spine.

Here is the frontispiece. Oliver Warner’s editing and his introduction are exemplary. He has modernised the spelling of his 18th century source, and interspersed summaries of sections from other seamen’s diaries when they provide amplification of the narrative. His explanatory footnotes and occasional correction of Robertson’s assumed facts are enlightening.

But, of course, my major interest was in the illustrator.

In order to produce reasonably large images of the woodcuts, I have scanned sections of the pages, with a little of the text by way of explanation.

Here is the dramatic opening paragraph,

and what was soon revealed to the crew’s delighted eyes;

and yet more.

This paragraph reflects the difficulty of establishing trust with no common language.

Sailors and islanders were fascinated by each other’s artefacts. In particular the nails of various sizes carried on board became the most valuable trading items.

Robertson never established the purpose of this place.

What nails could buy is suggested here.

Fresh food was also essential to the traders.

The artist’s final illustration admirably encapsulates what was clearly a very sad day for both parties of this 6 weeks’ acquaintance. The paragraph in square brackets is one of the editor’s additions.

I watched the last three matches of this year’s Six Nations rugby tournament. Before the England versus Scotland game we dined on pork spare ribs and a selection of Chinese starters, with which I drank Doom Bar. Jackie now has the cold as well, so this finger food suited us both.

A Cornucopia

is a cornucopia of literary and artistic delights from the pen, brush, and chisel of the author. Mine is the 1955 first edition of J. M. Dent protected by a somewhat worn jacket.

The embossed designs on the front board and the spine are therefore as fresh as they were 64 years ago.

Gibbings earned his living as a highly skilled and sought after wood engraver. This book tells of a trip to Paris and to Positano following his desire for colour and brushes as a break from the black and white bread and butter work. The writer’s memoirs are peppered with fascinating anecdotes from his own encounters and from tales of other artists. The history and geography of his subjects are presented with deceptive ease.

The book contains eight colour plates, one of which is repeated on the jacket above.

There are also forty examples of Gibbings’s wood engravings. These scans of sample pages offer the reader tastes of his elegantly simple prose; the last image above containing one of his many entertaining and informative insights into the art world.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s powerful smoked haddock, creamy mashed potato, piquant cauliflower cheese, crisp carrots, tender runner beans and cabbage, followed by ginger ice cream and lemon drizzle cake.