These children’s books just won’t leave me alone right now. I still have Tom Eckersley’s Animals on Parade and John Burningham’s lovely London Transport poster work on the list of things to write about here (depending on an appointment with the scanner and an Amazon book order respectively), but as if that isn’t enough, another whole treasure trove has just arrived by email.
A while ago, I posted some images from The Vegetabull, the picture book written by Jan Le Witt, one half of the Lewitt-Him partnership, as a spin-off from their classic wartime poster.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the published book, which didn’t seem to have the verve of the original, but didn’t think any more of it. Until I saw this.
Which is one of the original layout roughs for the book done by Le Witt and Him together, with George Him’s artwork. Here’s the title page as well.
George Him’s step-daughter Jane very kindly sent them over in response to the original blog piece, along with an insight into what had happened.
The book designs were one of the very last things that Jan Le Witt and George Him worked on together, as their partnership broke up in 1954. In the dividing up of work which followed, Jan Le Witt must have taken over the Vegetabull commission – I’m guessing it had already been contracted, as the title page above credits Harcourt Brace.
But the roughs are very different to the book that Jan Le Witt eventually produced, so much so that I can’t even begin to match the spreads from the published book to their equivalents in these designs..
For all I know they may not even illustrate the same story.
But they’re fascinating to look at even without the plot, not least as an insight into the working process. Some are very rough – and all the more delightful for it.
While others are well on the way to becoming finished illustrations.
There’s an ironic twist to the story as well, because although Jane had known the book roughs for a long time, she had thought that was the end of it. It was only when Ruth Artmonsky came to visit her in the course of researching her book on Lewitt Him and pulled out a copy of Jan Le Witt’s published book that she had any idea that something had become of them.
All of these designs, along with the rest of George Him’s archive, are now in the Archive of Art and Design at the Victoria and Albert Museum, so you can, in theory, pop in and see them for yourself. (One day I will try and get my head round what is in the V&A and their holdings and how to access them on your behalf, but it’s a task of such mind-aching complexity that I keep finding something else to do instead).
This much later sketch of a bull by George Him is probably in there too.
Should you fancy a much easier life than trying to find things in the V&A, there is a comprehensive and useful website about his life and work here.
And if you want a copy of the Le Witt book, it can be got for a very reasonable £15 or so. As a mint copy is going elsewhere on Abebooks for close to £100, that seems like a very good deal indeed.