Friday, 2 September 2011

Arthur Wragg 1903-1976

I came across these magazines recently whilst trawling around a few antiques centres trying to find beautiful items to sell for profit. As I failed to find any I resorted to buying something that just grabbed my attention, ohh and was cheap !! little or no risk.

So, I came home with two volumes of "Opera - The Magazine For Music Lovers" - which is odd since I have never been to an opera and often turn the radio off if opera is playing. With these it was the graphics that caught my attention, something very woodcut-ish about the illustration.

Both the covers are illustrated by an artist Arthur Wragg in an art nouveau style with an Aubrey Beardsley feel to them. Clearly inspired by the literary journal "The Yellow Book" published between 1894 and 1897; the covers of which were designed by Beardsley. A surprising choice for these publications since they date to 1924, a time when you would expect more of an art deco influence.

See - for more about the history and influence of this publication.

A couple of years ago I bought 4 of the original prospectuses for The Yellow Book in the form of the paper covers wrapping the subscription forms. These sold quite well but sadly my photos of them were lost when I changed PC's !!.
Who was Arthur Wragg ?? 

Arthur Wragg (1903-1976) was a British illustrator and commercial artist. The son of a travelling salesman and a telephonist, no artistic back ground there !! He studied at Sheffield School of Art from 1916 before working as a commercial artist in London from 1923. Initially working on various womens' magazines. He seems to have been a bit of a radical and went on to design the covers and cartoons for left wing newspapers such as the Tribune and the Peace News. As a friend of the pacifist preacher Canon Dick Sheppard he  became a "Sponsor of the Peace Pledge Union" and was imprisoned during WW11 as a result of being a conscientous objector. He wrote and illustrated several books on religion.

Quoting from The Dictionary of 20th Century British Book Illustrators - "a deeply religious man, Wragg seems to have been tortured by what he perceived as the inequities of life and by the underlying brutality of civilisation" and this britality is reflected in his illustrations. The stark black on white is thought provoking enough even before reading the books.

When he wasn't being radical he did find the time to create the illustrations for numerous periodical and books. Including;The Psalms for Modern Life (Selwyn & Blount 1933), Alice Through the Paper Mill (1940), Jesus Wept (Selwyn & Blount 1935), The Complete Pacifist (1937), Thy Kingdom Come (by Wragg himself 1939), The Place at Witton (by Thomas Keneally 1964) and works by Housman, Bronte, Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell and many more. There are over 400 hits on his name on ABEbooks, even allowing for duplicates, that is a lot of illustrations. His style was very graphic often resembling woodcut rather than the more common pen and ink line drawing usually seen in publications of the period.

Later in life he designed the artwork for the record covers for the Argo Record Company and commercial client such as Abdulla Cigarettes. For a full posting about Wragg and his record covers try reading the blog

And after all this careful trawling of the internet, I find that a memoir titled Arthur Wragg: Twentieth-century Prophet and Jester has been written.

All very powerful, deep and dark - but returning to the origin illustrations, they now look quite amateurish compared to is later work. However, it would be easy to forget that at that time he was only about 21 and a year out of college and was probably working in a style he had learnt rather than "his" that he was yet to develop. 

Internet references

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