9 April- 17 July 2011
Pallant House Gallery is delighted to host an exhibition of the classic book illustrations of Mervyn Peake (1911- 1968) to commemorate the centenary of the artist's birth. Most famous for his best-selling Gormenghast series of Gothic fantasies, Peake was one of the most multi-talented artists of the twentieth century. Painter,novelist, author of children’s books and nonsense verse, war artist, poet and dramatist, he also illustrated classic
works such as Treasure Island and Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
The exhibition coincides with the publication of Titus Awakes, the ‘lost’ final part of the Gormenghast sequence which was completed by Peake’s widow after his death and recently discovered by his granddaughter.
Born in Kuling, Central China, Peake later lived for a time with his family in Burpham, West Sussex where he is now buried, alongside his wife, Maeve Gilmore. The landscape of the Downs and countryside of the area was a rich source of creative inspiration for Peake – the titular castle of Gormenghast which he both wrote and illustrated is loosely based on the famous Arundel landmark. In his first published novel, Titus Groan, the flints, paths and skies he had observed during wartime, formed the backdrop and opportunity for many characters and situations.
Peake's economical illustrating style can appear disarmingly simple yet every stroke was purposeful and controlled. Often cross-hatched, his images appear almost as engravings with a rich variety of texture and shading. In his choice of subjects, Peake’s imagination frequently tended towards the grotesque; on the borderline between beauty and ugliness. When his 1939 pirate story, Captain Slaughterboard, was first published it received mixed reviews as some critics thought it too dark for children.
This dark side of his imagination seemed to come at a price. Peake suffered from mental fragility throughout his life and later developed Parkinson's Disease at a time when it was little understood. He underwent intensive and unnecessary electro-shock therapy treatment for the condition. He died prematurely in 1968 at the age of 57.
Mervyn Peake: A Centenary Celebration will include seminal examples from throughout the artist’s career such as key illustrations from his own works of fiction Gormenghast and Captain Slaughterboard, as well as his illustrations for classic children's literature such as Treasure Island, Swiss Family Robinson and Grimm's Fairy Tales. The show will also include examples of drawings for his adaptation of Jekyll and Hyde.
The exhibits come to the UK for their first showing since the 2009 'Lignes de Fuite' ('Lines of Flight') exhibition curated by Maison d'Ailleurs, Museum of Science Fiction, Utopia and Extraordinary Journeys in Switzerland.
A complementary exhibition will be held at the Otter Gallery at the University of Chichester ( 26 May - 17 July 2011) showing Peake's colourful nonsense poetry Rhymes Without Reason, his first illustration commission for Hunting of the Snark and his other original work of fiction Mr Pye. There will also be a Conference at the University of Chichester, organised by the Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy the closing weekend of the exhibition (16/17 July).
The author's son, Sebastian Peake, will be giving a talk on his father's life and work to mark the opening of the exhibition on Thursday 14 April 2011 at 6pm.