Nostalgia & Progress: Illustration after the Second World War

Image: Edward Ardizonne, Windy Day, Pen, Ink and Watercolour on Paper, 1947


Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, Leeds University

In Leeds University’s iconic Parkinson Building is the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery which is currently showing Nostalgia & Progress: Illustration After the Second World War. This is their third exhibition in a series exploring the history of British book illustration. The exhibition showcases the work of major post-war British illustrators such as Edward Bawden and Edward Ardizzone alongside contemporary illustrators inspired by the period after the war when new printing presses were created and with them new opportunities for artists to work as illustrators.

In our media obsessed 21st century we are overwhelmed with information and images. The exhibition celebrating the handmade nature of images from the era after the Second World War gives us a welcome release from our overloaded digital image age.

The current austerity era we find ourselves in, echoes the post-war era where rationing was still in place. Now we find comfort in the nostalgia of the past as can be seen in the success of the vintage revival we are currently experiencing from Cath Kidston to Kirsty Allsopp and ‘make-do-and-mend’. That same nostalgia can be found in abundance in this exhibition.

The coats and hats in the illustrations of Edward Ardizonne adorn the racks of the many vintage shops occupying our high streets today. These illustrations give us an insight into the lives of the post-war. The well-wrapped up children walking (there were no school runs in those days) to their local school in their uniform hats, caps and coats.

In this exhibition we find a real sense of a world where people were anxious to create a safe environment after the horrors of the Second World War and those ambitions live on in the illustrations of the contemporary artists shown alongside the illustrations by the post war artists. The influence of the post-war illustrators can be seen clearly in the work of these contemporary illustrators.


Image 2

Emily Sutton, The Incredible Journey, Book jacket commission, Ink and Watercolour on Paper, 2013.  


Emily Sutton’s illustration for the cover of the 2013 edition of Incredible Journey would not look out of place on the bookcase of any 1950s home.

Alongside the illustrations are associated ephemera from the post-war years including a dazzling pink patterned menu card for Dinner on Christmas Eve at the Queens Hotel Restaurant in Leeds designed by Edward Bawden. It is enchanting and so is the menu in French of Consommé Yvette, Carré d’Agneau Basquetière and finishing off with Pêche Glace Cardinal. Also delightful are the 1953 book covers Folio Society, the brainchild of Charles Ede who was an early printing pioneer. The Folio Society commissioned some of the best illustrators of its time and continues to do so.

Included in the exhibition is work by Ronald Searle whose vibrant children’s designs masked his own war experiences including the three years he spent as a Japanese Prisoner of War. Contemporary artists include the Leeds-based artist Matthew the Horse who does a drawing a day emulating Ardizzone’s drive to draw.

The contemporary artists are clearly influenced by the post-war illustrators whose work is exhibited. In some cases it is the actual design while for others it is the atmosphere of the era and a nostalgia for a much simpler age one that we all hanker after.

Madeleine Walton


Nostalgia & Progress: Illustration after the Second World War runs at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery until February 28th 2015.


Filed under: Art & Photography