Gwen White (1903-86) is an often overlooked book illustrator from the last century and she doesn’t even have the distinction of a Wikipedia page. Online references are few and far between with the honourable exception of the Alphabet of Illustrators where my old school pal, Chris Mullen has posted a comprehensive selection of her published work. Biographical information is hard to find – she was born Gwendolen Beatrice White in Exeter in 1902 or 1903 (sources vary), studied at Bournemouth School of Art and the Royal College of Art. Between 1933 and 1946 she was a regular illustrator of Enid Blyton books – not the highest accolade but a steady source of employment. In 1940 she contributed A Book of Toys to the prestigious King Penguin series. Later in the 50s she published two instruction manuals on the use of perspective and the development of pattern and several volumes on the subject of children’s toys of which this, dating from 1971, was the last.
For this book, Antique Toys and Their Background, she produced 8 colour plates and a double-sided illustrated dust wrapper. The illustrations have charm and humour but never an excess of sentiment and she proves to be an expert in the subtle art of arranging objects on a page. At first sight they appear anachronistic for the early 1970s – stylistically she absorbed next to nothing from the fashions of the 50s and 60s, yet her approach would be echoed by a new generation of illustrators later in the 70s (Ian Beck, Glynn Boyd Harte, George Hardie) who looked back to pre-war idioms as the mid-century style ran out of steam.