John Buckland Wright, The Vigil of Venus
JOHN BUCKLAND WRIGHT, THE VIGIL OF VENUS
John Buckland Wright (1897-1954) occupies a prominent place among 20th-century book illustrators. Buckland Wright was born in New Zealand, but for the greater part of his life he lived in Europe. In 1929 this artist, who had actually been trained as an architect, started work as a book illustrator with the Dutch publisher A.A.M. Stols. From 1936 onwards he worked mainly for English publishers, including The Folio Society and the Golden Cockerel Press.
The Museum Meermanno owns the largest and most important Buckland Wright collection in the world. This includes nearly all the books illustrated by him, together with independent graphic work, sketches and some two thousand letters. A large portion of the letters – 473 in all – are addressed to Christopher Sandford of the Golden Cockerel Press.
In total, Buckland Wright illustrated sixteen books for the famous Golden Cockerel Press. He was the most satisfied with Pervigilium Veneris. The Vigil of Venus, a translation by F.L. Lucas of an anonymous classical love poem.
The book was published in 1939 in an edition of one hundred copies. It was once stated in a bookseller’s catalogue that fifty copies were afterwards destroyed in an accident, but evidence to support this statement has never been found.
Buckland Wright worked on the illustrations for this book for two years. He quarrelled with Sandford about the wood engravings, partly because of the (minimal) erotic content of the illustrations. He subsequently made copper engravings.
In 2006 the Museum Meermanno bought at auction at Christie’s the complete and unique set of proof sheets for this book, extensively marked-up for the typesetter and with other annotations by the artist. This is known as a ‘paste-up’.
The Vigil of Venus was published in December 1939. Shortly before, on 3 September 1939, England had declared war on Germany. This book, which Buckland Wright considered his finest work, remained largely unreviewed by the press because of the political situation.