Friday 2 December 2011

Pauline Baynes - my most-loved illustrator?


Perhaps Pauling Baynes is the only illustrator whose work I love - and even then only some of the Tolkien and Lewis work.

Why should this be? Partly, no doubt, the connection with favourite authors, and partly the fact that I came across the work in my early teens when I was more open and unformed. But plenty of other things from that era have fallen away, and while I like many other Tolkien (or Lewis) illustrators, none move me in the same way.


Baynes illustrated Tolkien's Farmer Giles of Ham, then Lewis's Narnia chronicles (somewhat hit and miss, but with some definite hits), then - my favorite - Tolkien's Adventures of Tom Bombadil (poems), Smith of Wooton Major; and various maps and posters including those of Middle Earth and the Hobbit journeys, and the cover of the single volume 1970s paperback Lord of the Rings - all of which I used to examine with a magnifying glass to appreciate every last detail!


All these are done in a developed pastiche of the Luttrell Psalter - a medieval book of the Psalms with copious marginal illustrations (and perhaps the most enjoyable of all ancient English manuscripts).


My favourite illustrations are those which contain figures and landscape, especially figures in 'movement' - which (like the Luttrell Psalter) is a frozen and stylised kind of movement - beautifully balanced as a formal composition.

I am quite simply transported by some of these illustrations.


From what I have read of Baynes, she did not really understand either Tolkien or Lewis, nor did she sympathise with their outlooks (although clearly a nice and likable person, she was a very mainstream arts and crafts type Leftist in lifestyle and beliefs) - and yet by the magic of true inspiration she was able to create these masterworks, which not only illustrate but amplify and frame some of Tolkien and Lewis's major features.

This is, of course, quite normal for true creativity, it is inspired, it comes from without not from within.

Baynes supplied the drawing technique, the design - but the genius was supplied her, probably via the spirit of Tolkien and Lewis - and more reliably and frequently in the case of Tolkien than Lewis.



Wurmbrand said...

Yes -- the work that she did for Tolkien and Lewis while they were alive is wonderful, including her two Tolkienian maps.

However, some late work does not, for me, have the charm of the earlier work. I'm thinking of the book for Bilbo's Last Song and A Book of Narnians. This may be my problem, not something about the work -- although why she gives Elrond horrid blue eye make-up in the Last Song book beats me.

I'm grateful for much of the scratchboard artwork of Denys Watkins-Pitchford (BB), as in The Little Grey Men (cf. your interest in "animism"). If Lewis or Tolkien ever saw it, I don't know of the fact. I should think Lewis at least would have been appreciative.

Bruce Charlton said...

I agree that PB's later work was less good than her earlier - I think it was simply old age.

And I too like BB and the Little Grey Men books - as I recall he was the head of Art at Rugby school (of Tom Brown's Schooldays fame).

My second favourite illustrator is Ernest Shepard - who did Wind in the Willows and the AA Milne books. A gloriously free yet precise draftsman!

Wurmbrand said...

Patrick Wynne has created some very fine Tolkienian artwork. I think one is at first arrested by the fine technique, but there's more to his achievement than that.