Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Sunday Book

Guess she was cleaning out some shelves, but on Saturday my sister brought over a stack of books she wanted to get rid of. I’m not one to look a book-bearing gift horse in the mouth, but one of the books in my very un-horsey sister’s stack was something she really should have held on to. But then collecting books is not her thing. She probably needed the space for more cookbooks, which in one sense she does collect. The book that caught my eye in her stack of giveaways is one titled The Seasons, by Englishman, Louis Lawrence.

The forward to the book tells us that compilations of this kind are an ideal expression of the spread of literacy following England’s Elementary Education Act of 1870. It was a time of new magazines and newspapers and the monthly illustrated magazine with serialized novels. Such magazines would have been Lawrence’s first contact with graphic art, providing a context for the pages that later came to be known as The Seasons.

For his pages the artist-calligrapher selected short extracts of poetry by Longfellow, Tennyson and Wordsworth, as well as biblical scripture, decorated in his own hand with delicate drawings and watercolors. The 1981 Webb & Bower book is a reproduction of Lawrence’s private pages done between the years 1887-1890. Until 1981 the pages remained in private hands.

Information about Louis Lawrence is hard to find. He was a publicity artist for a London pharmacy named Maws and he died an old man in 1945. More than that is speculation. He was very likely a young man in his late teens when he did the work that makes up The Seasons. We may not know many of the facts of Lawrence’s life, but unmistakable is the Victorian stamp of his art. Very much a product of Victorian England, the sentiments of his art are hallmark characteristics of the age, particularly the poetry he selected reflecting the morals, the piety and the wonder of God seen in nature. Also a strong reverence for hearth and home and the virtues of family life.

Apparent in Lawrence’s compositions is the clear influence of English illustrator Birkett Foster. Birkett set forth clear guidelines for portraying the seasons in sketch and watercolor and each of those guidelines is evident in the pages of The Seasons. In most of the drawings the artist avoids human figures and animals because they reveal the limits of his still immature skills; his lettering and his landscapes are clearly the strongpoint. Roy Strong contends in his forward to the book that many of the drawings were probably copies of work the young artist had seen in magazines, and that the real charm of Lawrence’s drawings is in their amateur naiveté. More than anything The Seasons is a portrait of the spirit or ethos of Victorian culture. It is very much the sort of thing we see sometimes even today in old-fashioned Christmas cards—a formula of pictured image and virtuous thought in lyrical form.

Lawrence’s collection of drawings and calligraphy could even be called a Sunday book, the quiet pastime of a day ruled by the idea that amusements, as well as work were forbidden. Lawrence possibly escaped the restriction on painting and drawing on Sundays with the reasoning that his ‘amusement’ was in the line of illuminated texts.


  1. Looks like a nice book and Lawrence a pretty good artist. There's something inherently intimate about journals and the like, somehow the reader feeling privy to the direct thoughts of a writer.

  2. My favorite scene is the next to the last page you featured and my favorite writings are on the last one you showed. Happy to know that you are enjoying this book and author. It's a lovely post today.

  3. This is quite remarkable. I have two small unpublished original books of paintings with verse which were done by the artist Sydney Carter in England at about the same time. Sydney was in his teens in about 1880-1890 and his style is remarkably similar to that of Louis Lawrence. In terms of the skill level I would say that Sydney's painting skill is really outstanding - far better than Lawrence. If others are interested I thought it might be useful to put some of Sydney Carter's on this blog. Your comments? Gerald


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America