Mervyn Peake Centenary

The 2011 centenary of Mervyn Peake's birth has sparked a well deserved resurgence of interest in the life and works of this highly talented artist, writer and illustrator. Although best known for the Gormenghast trilogy, Peake's varied talent as a painter, writer of children's books, nonsense verse, and work as a war artist, poet, and illustrator are finally being recognised.

Born on July 9th 1911 in the hill town of Kuling, Central China, Peake drew inspiration for his first novels from an early age by the surrounding landscape of mountains and rolling plains. His parents employed a calligraphy tutor at an early age to encourage his creativity and supported him in producing his first ever story, published when Peake was only eleven. The long sea crossing when the family returned to England a year later gave Peake the idea for his first ever book Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor . This voyage began a lifelong passion for pirates and bucanneers and later inspired his illustrations for the classic Treasure Island written by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Following school, Peake began his formal art training at Croydon School of Art, but it wasn't until he enrolled at the Royal Academy and later had a painting selected for the Summer Exhibition of 1931 that his talent as an artist began to be taken seriously.

Whilst living in Sussex during the Second World War, Peake began writing Titus Groan and continued his novel when appointed as a war artist in 1945. The Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany which he visited, commissioned by The Leader Magazine had a huge impact on Peake as a writer and illustrator and influenced the more sinister and disturbing style of work that he became famous for.

In 1951 Peake was awarded the Heinemann Prize for Literature for Gormenghast and The Glassblowers. However Peake's illustrations for many classic titles including Treasure Island, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, The Ancient Mariner, Swiss Family Robinson, The Hunting of the Snark and The Brothers Grimm should not be forgotten.

To celebrate the centenary of Peakes life and work a number of new Texts and Books have been produced including an illustrated hardback edition of Gormenghast, The Sunday Books, and an updated and revised edition of Mr Pye. One of the most comprehensive and well illustrated books is entitled Peake: A Man and his Art, written by Peake's son Sebastian. Featuring a broad spectrum of works including his less known paintings as well as his famous illustrations this title also gives one of the most thorough and comprehensive accounts of the man himself.

To celebrate the life and work of Mervyn Peake a number of exhibitions are taking place to coincide with the centenary including an exhibition of illustrations at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester and Gormenghast, an exhibition featuring some of the original manuscripts opening at the British Library on July 12th.

For modern British art books, look no further than Pallant House Bookshop.

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