Mervyn Peake at Maison d’Ailleurs


I should have mentioned this a lot sooner considering the museum sent me a copy of the exhibition prospectus. Maison d’Ailleurs is the Museum of Science Fiction, Utopia and Extraordinary Journeys in Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland, and their current exhibition is Lines of Flight—Mervyn Peake, the Illustrated Work. Yverdon-les-Bains is too out of the way for most of us but the event gives me another excuse to draw attention to Peake’s illustrations for Lewis Carroll; some of the drawings from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass and The Hunting of the Snark are among the works on display until February 14, 2010.

Mervyn Peake (1911–1968) is celebrated today as the writer of the extraordinary series of novels about Titus Groan (often referred to as the Gormenghast books). Yet, during his lifetime he was more known for his graphic work.

From 1939 and for almost two decades, Peake produced illustrations both for his own work (Captain Slaughterboard; Rhymes without Reason) and for classics (Household Tales by the brothers Grimm; Alice in Wonderland; Treasure Island). His mastery of the pen and the pencil were unrivalled. Visually, his style could be disarmingly economical, using very pure and clean single lines to create a striking sense of volume. But with cross-hatching and dots Peake could also make his drawings look like engravings, providing the characters and objects he depicted, or the background to them, with rich and varied textures and a wide range of shades. (More.)

For more of Peake’s illustration work, see

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The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Charles Robinson’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Humpty Dumpty variations
Alice in Wonderland by Jonathan Miller
The art of Charles Robinson, 1870–1937
Lovecraftian horror at Maison d’Ailleurs
The Illustrators of Alice

5 thoughts on “Mervyn Peake at Maison d’Ailleurs”

  1. So did Peake illustrate Gormenghast? Not that Im sure I would be pleased. The Steerpike of his description has been pushed aside in my imagination by the eroticon created by Schmidt’s opera and J R Meyers in the BBC version.

  2. He produced a lot of character studies rather than illustrations as such. I haven’t seen a recent edition of the books but my old Penguin editions contain some of those drawings and also use them on the covers. Steerpike looks more like John Lydon in his Sex Pistols days than JR Meyers, something which Jon Savage actually noted in one of his Pistols gig reviews. The same thin face and murderous gaze. You can see a number of them on the Peake site.

  3. Heh heh. Peake, you talented fiend. Looking forward to your Alice illustrations John, especially the Caterpillar.
    “Who are you?”

  4. Most of the manuscript notes (for certainly Titus Groan and possibly Gormenghast) and I think possibly also the Gormenghast character sketches were created by Peake during his stint as a war artist in WWII, as a mental distraction from the horrors he saw. Peake’s drawings and poetry from Belsen are simple but powerful, emotive works.

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