Sunday, 3 June 2007

Clifford Webb 1895-1972

Clifford Webb was one of the great practitioners of the challenging art of wood engraving and I am a great admirer of his work. Clarity of structure, dynamic compositions and precision of mark-making typify his output. In all he illustrated eight books for the celebrated Golden Cockerel Press between 1937 and 1954. My only written sources on Webb are the 1982 catalogue of an exhibition held at Leicester Polytechnic and an article in Studio magazine by Christopher Sandford published in August 1949.

The private press books were beautifully produced for a small but discriminating market but alongside them he illustrated and wrote ten books for children. In addition he illustrated about 25 books by a wide range of authors, most notably Arthur Ransome’s “Swallows and Amazons” (in later editions Ransome’s own illustrations supplanted those of Webb).

This book of satirical poetry by Marmaduke Dixey published in 1936 was a rare chance for Webb to display his talent for visual wit and engage with more contemporary material. There was also scope for exploring his preferred themes of wild creatures in their habitat and the pleasures of the countryside. Although the production values lack the scale and quality of the private press editions, the playful character of the verses is reflected to perfection in Webb’s versatile and resourceful illustrations. Further examples of Clifford Webb can be found at Chris Mullen’s compendious Alphabet of Illustrators. Highly recommended.

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