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Edward Ardizzone

With a career spanning 52 years illustrating over 170 books,Edward Ardizzone was one of the most prolific illustrators of the 20th century and remains one of the most sought-after. His distinctive style is immediately recognisable with its cross-hatched pen and ink drawings and bright colourwash pictures. So how did this shy, quiet individual who started his working life as a lowly clerk come to be an established illustrator and official War Artist?

Edward Jefferey Irving Ardizzone was born in Haiphong, China on 16th October 1900 but it wasn't until 1905 that the family settled in England. His father Auguste was Italian by birth but became a naturalised Frenchman. His mother, Margaret, was half English and half Scots. Auguste spent his entire professional life working for the Eastern Telegraph Company while Margaret, having studied painting in Paris, continued to paint in water-colour after her marriage. It was she who influenced the young Ardizzone and encouraged him in his early artistic efforts.

In 1913 Edward was sent to Clayesmore, a minor public school, where he made few friends and sought refuge in his drawing. In this he was encouraged by a school mistress and he won a prize from the Royal Drawing Society. However, his interest in art meant that his other studies were neglected, as he admitted 'I have always loved drawing and in childhood ill-spent much of my time scribbling over my lesson books.'

Edward left school in 1918 when he was eighteen years old. He had already decided he wanted to be an artist but his father was not prepared to pay for him to attend art school and so he joined the Eastern Telegraph Company and worked in the City as a clerk for six years.


While the job was boring, with insufficient work to keep him occupied, Edward whiled away the time by practising his drawing technique. Each night he took home the little drawings he had done during the day and proudly pasted them into a scrapbook. He began to attend art classes on three evenings a week and it was through these classes that he was introduced to the art world of the time. In 1927 Ardizzone decided to give up his job and devote his life to becoming a professional artist, delighting his mother but horrifying his father!

Ardizzone began his career by designing book jackets. Book illustration had reached a critical period due to post-war economies, with the lavishly illustrated picture books so popular before 1914, now being too expensive to produce. Ardizzone's talent for pen-and-ink drawing proved to be a perfect match for the period and it wasn't long before he was commissioned by Peter Davies to produce a set of drawings for 'In A Glass Darkly' by J. Sheridan Le Fanu. This was published in 1929. In the same year Ardizzone married Catherine Anderson. While Ardizzone felt sure he 'had arrived' as an artist, it was to be another five years before he was commissioned to illustrate another book. During this period Ardizzone undertook commercial work, held a series of one-man exhibitions of drawings and paintings and began a long association with the Radio Times.

By now the Ardizzones had two children, Philip and Christianna, for whom Edward, a gifted storyteller, would make up bedtime stories. As the children listened to the stories they would add to them and Edward began to write them down, illustrating them with attractive colourwash drawings. This was the start of his highly collectable series of children's books. The first, ' Little Tim And The Brave Sea Captain', was published by Oxford University Press in 1936 and was printed exactly as Ardizzone had written it in his sketchbook, even retaining his handwriting.

The next two books ' Lucy Brown and Mr Grimes' (left) and ' Tim and Lucy Go To Sea' ( right) were published in the same large format. Subsequent editions were smaller due to paper shortages during the war and this became the standard format for the series. Lucy Brown was also reissued in a revised version in the 1970s.

In the original edition Lucy was befriended by a stranger - an old man in a park - this caused such alarm in America it was withdrawn from the public libraries and in the revised edition Mr Grimes is an old family friend! ' Tim All Alone' published in 1956 was the first book to win the British Library Association's Kate Greenaway Award for illustrations.

In 1940 Ardizzone was made official War Artist and during the war he found himself in France, Italy and Germany. His job was to paint watercolour pictures for the War Office, sending batches of them to London whenever he found the opportunity to set up his drawing board and turn his pencil jottings and rough sketches into pictures, thus creating an impressive one-man's view of a crucial part of the second world war.

After the war, with his reputation established, commissions came thick and fast, one of the more unusual being in 1959 when Sir Colin Anderson commissioned murals in the first class children's nursery on the ocean liner P&O Canberra. Besides his own stories for children, Ardizzone collaborated with many other respected children's authors includingEleanor Farjeon, James Reeves, Graham Greene and his own cousin, Mary Lewis, who wrote the 'Nurse Matilda' books under the name of Christianna Brand. In addition to children's books, Ardizzone also illustrated numerous and varied works of literature including works by Charles Dickens, Shakespeare,H.E.Bates, Daniel Defoe and Henry Cecil.

In 1979 Ardizzone decided not to accept any more commissions but to devote his time exclusively to his painting. Sadly he died from a heart attack in the same year on 8th November, aged 79.

For the completist collector Ardizzone presents a fascinating challenge. In addition to the books there are numerous ephemeral items to look out for, including letters, birthday cards, Christmas cards, menus and advertising booklets, as well as hundreds of drawings in magazine articles, not forgetting his original paintings and drawings. Whatever your taste in collecting, Ardizzone provides something for everyone.

Submitted by Chris Tomaszewski.

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