Tuesday, 28 November 2017

The Art of Enchantment

Welcome to our new regular blog feature where we go behind the scenes with our collectors and take a look at some of the the special pieces they've bought and discover why they chose them. This month we hear from Mei, whose enviable collection includes artwork by illustrators such as Angela Barrett, John Vernon Lord, Jane Ray and David McKee:

Beauty looks pensive clutching flowers in her hand, her dress and hair billowing in the wind. At her side looms the magical Beast as a dark green hedge. On the left a stone sculpture with a head of pink roses appears uncannily lifelike. Nothing is as it seems. The dreamy palette of greens evokes a landscape and atmosphere of quietude yet there is tension as if on the cusp of danger. It is a tale as old as time, and Angela Barrett’s rendering of Beauty and the Beast is enchanting. Ethereal. Her delicate brushstrokes of light and shade lend elegance and her pictures poignancy, to a story about love and loss. Richly allusive Beauty Runs Across the Garden is the front cover artwork of a classic fairy-tale retold by Max Eilenberg, whose moving prose touched my heart. I am thrilled it resides in my home.

At the top end of Bury Street in St James’s, lies Illustrationcupboard Gallery, an art gallery devoted to pictures of the most fantastic kind. Even before you step in you can sense something wonderful is about to happen. It is like walking into a storybook - a place full of colour and imagination. Nestled among private gentlemen clubs and posh clothiers, it is unlike the numerous haughty and hardened galleries found in this gentrified area of London. It is an intimate, inviting space. The glass exterior allows daylight to illuminate the tiers of storied artwork that glitter and glide effortlessly along the walls. Your eyes cannot help but dart from one picture to another, greedily absorbing the visual sensations contained within each golden frame. The pictures weave a sort of magic that engages both the heart and mind, and the welcoming staff ensures a pleasurable experience for every visitor.

My encounter with contemporary book illustrations began a year ago at this delightful emporium, a stone’s throw away from Christie’s where I work. With a passion for reading since childhood, combined with a love for beautiful things, this genre of art appealed to my sensibilities. Drawn from narrative, illustrations bring the written word to life. It is collaboration between text and image. They elucidate a story, enriching the reader’s experience giving rise to a wealth of meaning. And so began a love affair with Illustration Art, which, over the course of a year resulted in me collecting ten works by some of the most distinguished English artists.

As a jewellery specialist it was inevitable that the lapis blue in The Children Read by Jane Ray from the book of The Lost Happy Endings first caught my eye. It is a celestial colour. In the picture the nightscape is dotted with gold stars just as the lapis stone is found with gold flecks on its surface. That ultramarine blue reminds me so much of my time as a student in the History of Art. Nostalgia. It became my first purchase. The work is a compact composition of rooftops and houses lit under a night sky and bright moon, and in a contemplative moment I can almost hear the children by the windows.

Another jewel-like illustration I love is Playing Cards Painting Roses Red by John Vernon Lord for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. It is a small image – a miniature, which makes it all the more exquisite. There is something about Lord’s accurate drawing which appeals to my methodical side. The roses delineated in black ink are like the sharp facets of a diamond. Their luscious Pigeon’s Blood hue and drops of ruby-red paint appear to spill over the picture’s threshold. There is a mathematical precision in the artist’s treatment of this subject, yet the world he depicts is a dizzy one. It is contradictory yet beguiling. Dimensions are warped and realities interchangeable. In Alice’s world the cards speak, the croquet balls are hedgehogs and I can walk Through the Looking Glass.

I was lucky to have met some of these award-winning illustrators. Among them David McKee, whose creation of Mr Benn stole my heart. Mr Benn is a well-dressed bowler-hat Englishman - a respectable old-fashioned character whom I find so endearing. Each day he ambles into a fancy dress shop and changes into a different costume to embark on marvellous adventures. The stories are simple and charming. But it is Mr Benn’s sense of morality which resonates having parents who instilled deep values in me from a young age. 007 Benn is Mr Benn dressed in a smart suit as the world’s best-loved spy - James Bond. He is seen in the changing room of the costume shop in all his bravado, holding a gun. I especially love the artist’s depiction of Mr Benn’s multiple reflections in the mirrors. They are like the innumerable prisms of an immense and exquisitely chiselled diamond. It is swagger, a type of cool only an artist like McKee can portray without coming across too cocksure.

John Vernon Lord, a giant in this field, tells us that the purpose of illustration, “... is to enlighten”. From my first picture to this personal reflection the journey has been one of wonder and discovery. If you know John Huddy, proprietor of Illustrationcupboard Gallery, then access to the gallery’s lower ground may be granted, where a rich reservoir of pictures is kept. I am privileged to have had the opportunity to view some of the most exquisite original illustration artwork in this secret chamber. John’s unerring instinct, aesthetic sense and free-flowing thoughts have guided me through this exciting area of collecting. But at the heart of his business is a deep appreciation and conviction for the art he handles. Illustrations illuminate. They offer clarity, allowing us to grasp their stories with heightened awareness and pleasure. Like Giotto’s biblical frescoes in the Arena Chapel it is the art of story-telling in pictures. They elevate our thoughts and fuel our dreams, for the most valuable things in life are those which you cannot see. In their stillness they capture that single moment for eternity. And that is enchanting.

-- Words by Mei Y Giam.

Monday, 21 August 2017

50 Years of Mr Benn by David McKee

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the iconic and much-loved Mr Benn books, featuring the bowler-hatted hero created by artist, writer and illustrator David McKee. 

The name ‘Mr Benn’ conjures strong memories of childhood adventures through the changing-room door of the fancy dress shop on Festive Rd. This month we are delighted to be celebrating 50 Years of Mr Benn with an exhibition of concept artwork, sketches, and published book illustrations. But the highlight of the show are the never-seen-before animation cels from the original Mr Benn films - hidden away in the film-makers studios for half a century, and only now released for the very first time.

We spoke with John Huddy, Managing Partner of Illustrationcupboard to find out why David McKee's Mr Benn artwork is not only a celebration of classic creativity, but is also a rare and valuable investment.

''David McKee's creation of Mr Benn was one of those rare moments of unique creativity, which has touched the heart and soul of so many over the 50 years since the books were published and then animated for BBC television. Classics roll on through the generations and are not subjects to fashion - such is Mr Benn. His quiet understated heroism provides a force for good, touching upon much ingrained in the British character and psyche, making this artistic creation so special to us here in the UK. 

Not only is the magic of Mr Benn an inspiration, but the value of this work has acquired a valid cultural, and now financial, value. With so much of the original artwork destroyed in the mid-1970's this collection of book illustration and film cels is special and rare. But it also has a further value representing a method of film-making that no longer exists. In a world of digital CGI, stop-frame animation with hand-painted scenes and acetate cels is a dinosaur, and as such these pieces are a historical record of the history of animated film-making, of which Britain has led the world for more than half a century.''

(John Huddy, Managing Partner of Illustrationcupboard gallery)

What people are saying...

"Cult cartoon star Mr Benn on brink of film stardom as he turns 50."
Read the full article here.

"Regularly voted one of the most beloved children’s programmes of all time."
Read the full article here

"As well as their whimsical charm, what characterises the series is a sense of morality."
Read the full article here.

"Never-before-seen animation cels go on display."
Read the full article here

"Children's TV favourite Mr Benn celebrates fifty years."
Watch the video here.

"The perennial favourite turns 50."
Read the full article here

"One of the most-loved children's TV series from the 1970's."
Listen to the full interview here (at 1:53)

Mr Benn at Turnbull and Asser - A new collection of pocket handkerchiefs!

Mr Benn fever is sweeping Bury St in St James's, London. Having met creator David here at the gallery, the art director of the classic english tailor has designed a 50 Year Anniversary set of 'Mr Benn pocket handkerchiefs' which are exclusive to Turnbull and Asser, our neighbours next door - so come down and see the sartorial elegance of Mr Benn at Turnbull and Asser whilst seeing all the original book and film work next door here at the Gallery! 

A New Street Name for Mr Benn
Mr Benn’s address, 52 Festive Road, was inspired by David McKee’s own house in Festing Road in Putney. In 2009 residents in the street paid tribute to David and Mr Benn by laying an engraved paving stone outside the house. McKee actually lived at 54 Festing Road; he put Mr Benn at No.52 because he had drawn himself looking from the window in the first book and thought it might be nice to have Mr Benn living next door! As part of the 50 years anniversary the residents petitioned for and gained approval to rename a pathway off Festing Road now called Festive Walk in his honour. Although Mr Benn is never referred to by his first name on screen, David McKee had always thought that ‘William’ would suit well. Mr Benn has secured his place in popular culture with mentions in songs by Oasis, The Divine Comedy, Half Man Half Biscuit and Bell XI.

50 Years of Mr Benn at the Illustrationcupboard Gallery runs from 16 August to 16 September, and in a special book-signing event there will be the opportunity to meet the creator, David McKee, on 23 August 2017 at the gallery from 4.00pm onwards. 

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Meet the Team!

Here at the Illustrationcupboard gallery we have a small but perfectly formed team working every day behind the scenes. You may have met some of us before at an exhibition or event, or perhaps spoken to us on the phone. Maybe you've even joined us for a cup of tea and a slice of cake on a Friday! Here we'd like to introduce you to our gallery family and tell you a little bit about why the Illustrationcupboard is such a special place to work!

Meet John
Managing Partner

"I started Illustrationcupboard in the spare bedroom of my sister’s flat in 1995 with only a desk and a telephone,  when there was little interest in collecting contemporary book illustration artwork. Over twenty years on I am pleased to regularly show the finest artwork in this field to a broad international collecting audience from our three floor art gallery in St James's, Mayfair. I often think how lucky I am to have the opportunity to see this original work when so many thousands of others see only the printed page."

Meet Jessica
Framing and Curation

What do you do at Illustrationcupboard?
I keep track of the artwork, mount, frame and hang all of the exhibitions. 

Which illustrator’s work would you love to own?
Neil Packer’s 'Look at your room Nausicaa!' published in The Odyssey

What do you love most about your job?
Getting to work so closely with such incredible artists.

Favourite Illustrationcupboard moment?
One of many – Babette Cole prancing round the gallery with bunny ears for James and the Giggleberries and Babette dressed up as Princess Smartypants for the celebration of 30 years of Princess Smartypants in September 2016.

What was your favourite book as a child?
Not Now Bernard’ by David McKee

Meet Daphne
Deputy Gallery Manager

What do you do at Illustrationcupboard?

Which illustrator’s work would you love to own?
Either something by John Vernon Lord or Angela Barrett.

What do you love most about your job?
I love getting to see all of the different artwork and having contact with so many artists. Everyone here is really friendly - even the postman!

Favourite Illustrationcupboard moment?
Having lunch with Jan Pienkowski at his house and looking through all his artwork - it was like an art museum! One of the great benefits of this job is occasionally getting to meet great artists in their studios and homes, it's not a chance most people would ever have so I really appreciate it.

What was your favourite book as a child?
Red Rose, White Rose illustrated by Gustav Tenggren.

Meet Molly

What do you do at Illustrationcupboard?
I help people to discover the gallery and spread the word about our upcoming exhibitions.

Which illustrator’s work would you love to own?
Definitely something by Shaun Tan. His work is completely breathtaking, it stops me in my tracks every time I walk past it. 

What do you love most about your job?
Getting to meet some of the most talented artists working today and seeing the original illustrations that I grew up with as a child.

Favourite Illustrationcupboard moment?
Having tea and biscuits with the amazing David McKee whilst looking through his original paintings of Elmer the elephant!

What was your favourite book as a child?
Would have to be either The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr or Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.

Meet Anne
Sales and Events

What do you do at Illustrationcupboard?
I run the gallery on Saturdays and help out with private views.

Which illustrator’s work would you love to own?
I would love to own an original Brian Wildsmith, as I think his colours are just fantastic. I love the detail in his pictures that you can only see close-up in the flesh, which don't always come across when you see the images in his books.

What do you love most about your job?
I love that no two Saturdays are the same - sometimes it is quiet so I get on with updating our contact database, and then other times it can be very loud with lots of families getting excited about artwork that they have seen in books they read growing up.  

Favourite Illustrationcupboard moment?
This is a difficult one - there have been so many!  Getting to meet the artists is always a wonderful experience.  It was always a pleasure to host an event for Babette Cole, who was a ball of fun, and a huge personality.  Meeting Shaun Tan was also pretty fantastic, as he doesn't come over to the UK very often, but I love all of the artists that we get to work with; they are all so talented!

What was your favourite book as a child?
Each Peach Pear Plum, written by Allan Ahlberg and illustrated by Janet Ahlberg.  Apparently, when I was very small, my mother took me to the local library where they were having a book reading, and I stood up and recited the whole thing!  I even had a dolly called Baby Bunting.

Meet Jenny

What do you do at Illustrationcupboard?
I'm the admin assistant at the gallery.

Which illustrator’s work would you love to own?
I would love to own a Brian Wildsmith

What do you love most about your job?
I love working so closely with all this art – being able to have a wander round the gallery and have a good, long look whenever it’s quiet. I also love finding hidden gems down in the basement archives that we’d forgotten about!

Favourite Illustrationcupboard moment?
I really enjoy meeting the illustrators, they are always so lovely!

What was your favourite book as a child?
I was a big fan of Peace At Last by Jill Murphy.

Meet Stella

What do you do at Illustrationcupboard?
I make sure John stays in line! ... and I keep the books.

Which illustrator’s work would you love to own?
I'd love to own something by either John Vernon Lord or Shaun Tan.

What do you love most about your job?
Working with such nice people.

Favourite Illustrationcupboard moment?
Having dinner with Shaun Tan when he came over from Australia.

What was your favourite book as a child?
It's hard to pick a favourite from my childhood, but my favourite to read to my child now would have to be either Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak or Room on a Broom by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler.

We love nothing more than meeting visitors and chatting about the wonderful illustrators we work with, so please come and say hello next time you're in the gallery. If you have any questions about any of the artwork we're always happy to help. We look forward to seeing you soon! 

Discover more at www.illustrationcupboard.com
Get in touch at gallery@illustrationcupboard.com
Drop us a line at 0207 976 1727

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

The story behind the Storyteller Chair

Ahead of the opening of our Brambly Hedge exhibition this spring, we caught up with Jacqui Lyons, Partner of both Illustrationcupboard and RhubarbLondon, to find out the story behind the unique Brambly Hedge Storyteller Chair. Full of magical secrets and surprises, the chair will be on show for the first time at the launch of the Brambly Hedge exhibition opening on 10th May. In this exclusive blog post Jacqui tells us how Illustrationcupboard first began, about her involvement in the company and how collaboration and creativity led to one of the most unique chairs you will ever see.

Words by Jacqui Lyons:

In November, 1995, when I first met John Huddy, founder of the Illustrationcupboard gallery, he was holding an exhibition in a gallery in Connaught Village, London. I was on my way to my local coffee shop, when I spotted a wonderful illustration by Graham Oakley in the window of what I thought was an abstract art gallery.  Curious, I went in and spoke to John, who explained that he was renting the gallery for two weeks.  I asked about the Graham Oakley piece which was from The Church Mice, and bought it for a client of mine.  When I called in the next day to pay for it, I took a closer look at all the wonderful illustrations John was selling, which immediately impressed me.  I also believed that there was a synergy between John’s Illustrationcupboard and my company, Marjacq Scripts Ltd, a successful literary agency I had founded with my late business partner, George Markstein in 1983, so I suggested that John and I formed Illustrationcupboard LLP, which led to the gallery in Bury Street. 

Illustration from the Church Mice Take a Break by Graham Oakley

I was right about the synergy: the Graham Oakley illustration I had bought which I gave to my client was a picture from his most favourite childhood book and he was absolutely thrilled.  Marjacq Scripts then went on to represent Graham Oakley and negotiated the re-publication of three of his famous Church Mice books.

Something similar happened to me in July, 2015 when I noticed the most unusual and, to me, surrealistic chair in the window of a shop in Central London.  I was immediately arrested by the chair because, although it was a typical small Victorian chair, it was upholstered in a tweed jacket, complete with leather elbow patches and pheasant feathers.  It was a piece of art or a character, rather than just a chair.  Once again, I was fascinated - I wanted to know more.

After weeks of research, I eventually tracked down Shaun Brownell, the creator of the chair and bought it.  When Shaun came to deliver the chair, I discovered that he had a website which was selling the chairs.  Personally, I felt that they demanded a wider audience – they were so unusual and so very beautifully made.  So, I suggested that Shaun and I form a new partnership to promote and market his wonderful pieces, which we called RhubarbLondon

Last year, John mentioned to me that he would be holding a major Brambly Hedge exhibition at the Illustrationcupboard gallery in the spring and showed me some of the Brambly Hedge books. I felt that the delightful illustrations would make a wonderful fabric for a very special chair – The Brambly Hedge Storyteller Chair.  Liz Barklem (Jill Barklem's daughter) kindly gave permission for this concept to be realised and it will be seen for the first time at Illustrationcupboard’s Brambly Hedge exhibition launch in May.

This magical Brambly Hedge Storyteller children’s chair is a handmade two-thirds sized version of an adult wing chair.   Whilst sitting in the chair, the child can either read, play or listen to the Brambly Hedge Audio CD via the self-contained, remotely controlled portable sound system through the stereo speakers colour coded and fitted to the back of the chair. 

The front arms and legs of the chair have been intricately hand carved from ancient oak to create the mystical tree trunk world of Brambly Hedge with subtle illumination glowing through the delicate windows and front door.  Aged Chestnut legs support the rear of the piece. Lovingly upholstered in the traditional Brambly Hedge Field specially printed fabric and accentuated with nut brown leather piped detail.

The chair is operated by a fully rechargeable 12v battery supply capable of powering the chair for at least 90 minutes on full charge.  The CD player, charging socket and On/Off switch are all neatly concealed behind a flap to side of the chair.

The Brambly Hedge Storyteller chair is the realisation of my enthusiasm and commitment to being a partner of Illustrationcupboard and RhubarbLondon.  If ever there was a synergy between two businesses, then this is the result. 

The Brambly Hedge exhibition opens at the Illustrationcupboard Gallery on 10th May and runs until 3rd June. This major solo exhibition will showcase a collection of Jill Barklem’s original artwork from the much-loved Brambly Hedge books that has never before been exhibited in the UK or made available for sale. Find out more at www.illustrationcupboard.com 

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Investing in illustration: Interview with John Huddy

Here at the Illustrationcupboard gallery we often get asked whether buying original illustration artwork really is a good investment. So we sat down over a cup of tea with John Huddy, Founder and Managing Partner of the gallery, to discuss the illustration market and discover his top tips on how and what to buy in 2017...

Why is the contemporary illustration market so unique?

The market for illustration goes back a long way, but it’s mostly been for historical illustration. The market for modern and contemporary illustration however is one that this gallery has created. When I started Illustrationcupboard 20 years ago nobody else was doing what I was doing. In fact there weren’t any other contemporary illustration galleries at all or any dealerships in Britain.  

To define and develop a new area of collecting or buying in any industry is incredibly rare and doesn’t happen very often, so this really is an opportunity. There are collectors who come to the gallery and consistently buy a lot of work because they realise the unique opportunity they have to buy artwork at entry level. This is work that’s coming directly out of artists’ studios for the first time ever. It’s not a secondary market, it’s a primary market, and to have the opportunity to create a primary market is a very unique position to be in. 

In time, these illustrators’ work will move into the secondary market. It’s happening already with artists such as David McKee, Shirley Hughes and Angela Barrett; their work is already starting to go through Sotheby’s and Christies and other auction houses. The secondary market will then inevitably develop, there’s no question about that, and then one day there will be a secondary market and no longer a primary market. That’s when you’re into the established art world, like everything else. 

There is a short window of opportunity for collectors, and that is what I find so interesting about this market. In 50 years, I know some of these terrific artists will be seen in the same way that we now look at illustrators from the 1920s. Their works will become classics and I think the prices will reflect that.

What advice would you give to someone buying their first piece of illustration artwork?

Buying is the same, whatever you’re buying. Your instinct is usually correct and your first impressions are usually right. Buy from the heart, buy from the gut and buy what you like. People often ask me, “What do you think about this piece?” and I always tell them the same thing: “If you like it, chances are that there are an awful lot of other people out there who are going to like it too.” And that’s generally true, so you’ve got to follow your instincts. 

What about buying an illustration as a gift?

The best gifts to give people are the ones that you really like yourself. People will appreciate a gift, however small it is, that has been given with consideration, with thought and some passion. People can always see that, I think. A lot of purchases are driven by nostalgia as people want to buy things they grew up with or pieces they know their children will enjoy.  I envy these children. It's such a special thing, to own an original from a book you love, something you will always have and can pass on to your own children.

Top five illustrators to invest in this year?
Alexis Deacon
David McKee
Shirley Hughes
Angela Barrett
George Butler

To discuss purchasing an original illustration or to talk about your collection, call the gallery for a chat on 0207 976 1727 and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have.

You can browse our collection online at www.illustrationcupboard.com or visit us at the gallery at 22 Bury St, St James’s, London, SW1Y 6AL, open 9:30am – 6pm Mon-Fri, 11am – 5pm Saturdays.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Meet Ingram Pinn, Political Cartoonist for the Financial Times

This month we are excited to launch a major solo exhibition of political cartoons by Ingram Pinn, illustrator for the Financial Times. Since 1987 Pinn has produced his own comment each weekend for the FT and illustrated further articles throughout the week. Ahead of the exhibition, we caught up with Ingram about his recent body of work which draws upon key moments from 2016’s turbulent political landscape... 

Words by Ingram Pinn:

"2016 has been a tumultuous political year, and 2017 looks like being even more disturbing. With Brexit throwing the UK political establishment into turmoil and the election of Donald Trump turning US policy on its head by tweet, politics has certainly become less predictable. All this of course provides endless fruit for a political cartoonist to pick at, as every day one absurdity overturns another. Sadly for the world, the worse things get the more there is to make fun of, although these surreal times often seem beyond satire.

Early in the year talk at the World economic forum in Davos was of artificial intelligence and robots taking our jobs, but more immediate concerns soon grabbed our attention. A surprise (for pollsters) vote for Brexit was followed by the farce of Cameron’s resignation and Gove stabbing doubles partner (it was Wimbledon time) Boris in the back. Those who voted to leave found that like a collapsing line of dominoes their vote ended with Theresa May, who supported the remain side, as our new prime minister. With the motto ‘Brexit means Brexit’ meaning nothing and challenges in court I drew Theresa May perched on a Brexit rocket (it was Nov 5th) while judges held the matches to light the fuse. Theresa went to Brussels to plead the UK’s position where European council President Donald Tusk said that they were not a lion’s den but a dove’s nest. I drew them as the fiercest doves you could imagine. Eventually parliament voted to launch the UK into an unknown future, like the Toy Story “to infinity and beyond”.

The war in Syria allowed Putin to expand his power stirring up trouble all over the place and spreading refugees across the world. The sad plight of refugees were a continuing topic through the year, with the EU showing no unity of purpose, batting refugees across borders like balls in a tennis match and leaving Angela Merkel to take all the flack for welcoming them to Germany

Trump trumped it all by beating all expectations and becoming the most powerful political leader in the world. His hairstyle is a gift to all cartoonists, but surprisingly difficult to make sense of, as are his constant tweets, many of which were attacking his own secret services. I drew him as the statue of liberty, smoke pouring from the torch and the constitution replaced by his book “the art of the deal”.  Warming the world both politically and environmentally.  On inauguration day Trump leads the parade, banging the world with his America First drumsticks, while Chinese president Xi Jinping looks, on acting out the role of the new face of moderation." 

Ingram Pinn, 2017

Press images and more information from Daphne Shen on 0207 976 1727 
All Artwork is for sale. Online preview available on our website 
Weekdays 9:30am - 6:00pm, Saturdays 11:00am - 5:00pm 

Opening night private view and press reception; 15th March, 5.00pm – 8.00pm 

Exhibition runs from 15 March - 8 April 2017 

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