Saturday, 12 January 2013

Robert Gibbings: Wood Engravings

Clear Waters, early 1920s
Whale Leaping, 1935

Scouting for Whales, 1935

Harpooning, 1935

Cormorant, 1937

Seagull, 1934

A prolific wood engraver, author and publisher (as owner of the Golden Cockerel Press in the 1920s and early 30s), Robert Gibbings (1889-1958) was the epitome of the Romantic Modern. He published more than seventy limited edition books during his tenure at the press, commissioning Eric Gill, Eric Ravilious, John Nash and numerous other artists to illustrate them with wood engravings.

By the late 1930s he was becoming popular as an author who illustrated his own books with sometimes quirky illustrations. He had a particular penchant for rivers, and had a wartime hit with 'Sweet Thames Run Softly'; the recent reissue by Little Toller reproduces the wood engravings very well. The pictures above are from 'The Wood Engravings of Gibbings' by Thomas Balston (1949 ed).

Just for fun, here's the extraordinary harpooning picture fulfilling its purpose...

Only 275 copies of this book were printed, so it's rather expensive (sigh). I love to see commissioned wood engravings in their intended context; they work so well with text.


  1. Such lovely work. What a lot of white space to clear!

  2. Pulled out my Pelican copy of "Blue Angels and Whales" (1938) which I bought for the wonderful engravings - and find Gibbings went underwater to draw the coral reefs with pencil on xylonite, diving in Bermuda, Tahiti and the Red Sea - very much an early Attenborough? He was also a great admirer of Stanley Spencer, from his time at the Slade - which I am sure you know. Such wonderful line. thanks. S. Berris