Cabinet 18

Open Book

In 1950, JBW was teaching at the Camberwell School of Art. In 1952, he was appointed to teach the etching class at the Slade School of Art, where, according to Philip Sutton, his teaching was infectious: 'JBW seemed to allow everything; he was perfectly happy for whatever might happen to happen; he enabled us to express ourselves fully. He had the gift of firing students with enthusiasm, like throwing a match into a haystack.' A further extension to his teaching was the publication of his Etching and Engraving in 1953 - an extremely useful print resource even today.

John Buckland Wright, Etching and Engraving; Techniques and the Modern Trend. [London]: Studio Publications, [1953]. Special NE 2130.WY16.


If William Hayter described himself as 'a third-class passenger with the Surrealists', JBW was one to hop on and off the train, experimenting with abstract or surreal styles, while not adopting wholeheartedly the doctrine á la Breton. During 1934 and 1935, he produced a large number of prints, nearly all abstract or surreal, in a style that he claimed was a mix of 'the ' blood' of realism and the 'brains' of the abstract rhythm.' The subject matter - images of women titled Composition or Artist or Model - were sometimes in copper engraving but more often in wood. They were characterised by strong lines, and clear and precise delineation. This recent publication, compiled by Christopher Buckland Wright, reveals some of his 'surreal' outputs.

Surreal Times: The Abstract Engravings and Wartime Letters of John Buckland Wright. Denby Dale, [England]: The Fleece Press, 2000. Special NE 1147.6 B83 S97.

Buck and Student

In a recorded interview in 1990, Frank Martin said of JBW: '[He] was always extremely courteous, and a man of some style. He treated one as something of an equal. In spite of his great technical ability, there was an unpretentiousness that was very encouraging. It took away the over-mysterious side of etching.' Here is JBW - surrounded by the materials of his trade - imparting advice to a student.

JBW and student in his London studio, 1954. From The Engravings of John Buckland Wright (1990).


During his teaching stints, JBW would join his students on drawing trips to the beach. He encouraged them to sit down and sketch old weather-beaten driftwood, clouds and sand-dunes, the sea, each other. He also sketched, and the images drawn would end up as engraved prints. This swirling curvaceous image is 'Camber Sands', dated 1953, and is used as the cover for a JBW exhibition held at Wellington in 1982.

Acid and Grave : An Exhibition of Prints by John Buckland Wright (1897-1954). [Wellington, N.Z.]: Wellington City Art Gallery, 1982. Hocken: Bliss V5 Wel B.


Five books illustrated by JBW are included in Cockalorum, a sequel bibliography listing Golden Cockerel Press editions between June 1943 and December 1948. Those not featured in the present exhibition include Swinburne's Hymn to Prosperine (1944) and Napoleon's Memoirs (1945). The cover illustration for Cockalorum was done by Robert Gibbings (1889-1958), the Irish born illustrator, owner of Golden Cockerel Press from 1924 to 1933, and founder of the Society of Wood Engravers in 1919.

[Christopher Sandford], Cockolarum: A Sequel to Chanticleer and Pertelote. London: Golden Cockerel Press, [1949]. Special Z 232 G65 GL32 1949.


The work of Aristide Maillol (1861-1944), the French sculptor and painter, had some influence on JBW. Like JBW, Malliol concentrated on the female body, with a strong classical emphasis. On seeing proofs of Malliol’s woodcuts for Daphnis et Chloé (1937), JBW wrote to Sandford: 'They are probably far more erotic then even you would want me to do - I don't know - perhaps they correspond with your ideas. Actually I think you'd be prosecuted for publishing. Anyhow, they are quite perfect.' Elsewhere, JBW called Malliol's woodcuts 'some of the most beautiful cuts of modern times.' The model for this sculpture by Malliol may have been Dina Vierny, the artist's companion.

Paul Fierens, Sculpteurs D’Aujourd’hui. Paris: Éditions des Chroniques du Jour, 1933. Leith VEP F.


There was obviously some healthy competition between JBW and the influential English engraver, type-designer, and sculptor Eric Gill (1882-1940). On receiving a copy of JBW's Sonnets of Keats, Gill stated: 'Engravings like yours is essentially the making of light rather than the imitation of light and shade and I would rather see the forms glowing with their own internal combustion than merely appearing to be lit by candles.' JBW later wrote to Sandford and commented that Gill's Byzantine mannerisms gave a coldness to his erotic stuff (something that Gill admitted himself) completely destroying any real erotic feeling. Eroticism, JBW claimed, was not in what was drawn but the way it was drawn. Here is one of Gill's 'cold' nudes.

Eric Gill, Engravings: A Selection. Bristol: Douglas Cleverdon, 1929. Special NE 642 G5 A4 1929.

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References and Acknowledgements can be seen on the the main page.
University of Otago Master of the Burin: The Book Illustrations of John Buckland Wright, 1897 - 1954 <