Edward Ardizzone, known to almost everybody as Ted, was a very versatile artist, and extremely prolific. He is best remembered as an illustrator of over 180 books and as author of many, but his output in other fields is largely unknown, certainly in terms of scale.
After an early career as a clerk in the City, he began to work as an artist in 1926 aged twenty-six. He exhibited successfully as a painter from 1934. By the outbreak of the Second Word War, he had become well established as an artist, and was gaining reputation as an illustrator and author. As an official War Artist he submitted 401 finished works in a little over five years. To this should be added a considerable body of commercial work ranging from illustrated pamphlets to hoarding posters and also, a series of some ninety etchings and lithographs. In life he never attracted a bad review and only ever a few lukewarm ones.
It is puzzling that Ardizzone's reputation as a printmaker is not higher. Very few people are aware of this oeuvre, and even among those who are, few realise the scope of it ....
Although Ardizzone's first activities as a lithographer were in the 1930s, the main body of the work considered here was done between 1948 and 1961. This coincided with periods of teaching in the London art schools. The earlier lithographs were made at Camberwell. Later ones, and all the etchings, were done at the Royal College of Art. Additionally some others were commissioned by and printed at the Curwen Press and, later, the Curwen Studio.
Why Ardizzone became interested in lithography is unknown, but there may be clues within his character. He had always a fascination with printing as a medium. He particularly admired the work of Daumier and Dori but at another level he was awed by the craftsmanship shown by the engravers who interpreted artists' work. He regarded these people, many of whom remain unsung, as being equal, as interpretative artists, to performing musicians. Apart from this lofty notion, Ted was an affable, friendly man who got on easily with most people. His instinctive admiration of the craftsmen who printed his work communicated itself and was reciprocated, which made them give of their best. He particularly admired the craftsmen at the Curwen Press, and his praise for Ernie Devenish, printer at the Royal College of Art, was fulsome and sincere.
Ascribing influences to an artist is always a tricky pastime, because it is necessarily a very subjective one; however, a study of criticism since the 1930s reveals a concensus, albeit a broad one. Dickie Doyle is mentioned, as are Cruickshank, Daumier, Degas, Dori, Fantin-Latour, Hogarth, Keene and Lautrec. Ardizzone is cast as 'The Modern Rowlandson'. If any of those connections appear far-fetched, we have to remember our standpoint in history.
Though to us the nineteenth century seems an aeon away, it would not have seemed so to Ardizzone in 1920, say, when he was beginning to attend his evening classes. The nineteenth century was then recent history and Degas had died only three years previously. Ardizzone would have been discussing the impressionist masters with his fellow students from a similar perspective to that we might use when discussing Picasso or Moore. Also, most unusually for the time, his mother had attended one of the Paris studios, Colorossi's, in the 1890s, and would have had personal tales to tell of Paris and its artists of that time.
Ardizzone was in any case consummately competent and grasped new techniques easily. This was a by-product, perhaps, of his extremely conscientious nature. He loved the texture of the stone and the feel of the chalk as he drew with it. He was fascinated with light and shade, and he found that the subtleties of illumination he could achieve through delicate cross-hatching suited him entirely. Also, as he remarked on occasion, lithography produced in reproduction a replica image uniquely like the original.
It is said within the family that one serious motive for the editions was as a moneymaking venture. However, it is probably of equal importance that when teaching at Camberwell and the Royal College of Art, he had easy access to the means of printing. At Camberwell he taught illustration but, with stone and presses available, he would have been unable to resist using them. Dating the works and establishing where they were done is rendered more difficult here, because some of the works that depict the old life-drawing rooms at Camberwell were in fact printed later at the Royal College. The dated watermarks of the Whatman paper allow no other conclusion, so it is probable that the subjects were worked up from sketchbook drawings made earlier. Again, fashion in clothing is some help here, but it dates the subject rather than its execution.
Ardizzone spent relatively little time at Camberwell. Along with many of his peers and contemporaries, he was poached by Robin Darwin at his newly revitalised Royal College of Art. He was to teach etching which, he freely admitted, he knew nothing about, and he later confessed that he was taught about it by his students. He found etching an unsympathetic medium on the whole. He disliked the reversal of his normal process, of having to draw essentially white on black. He found also that without recourse to aquatint, he could not achieve the lights and darks he so particularly liked. The tedium of inking the plate displeased him too.
Nonetheless he produced some fine and interesting work with this medium. He must have found too, that the plate was much less prone to damage through mishandling. Whereas he had been able to achieve only quite small editions of some of his lithographs, several of the etching runs were quite large. (continues)