More Robert Tavener
I first featured the work of the talented artist, printmaker and water-colourist Robert Tavener back in 2010. Since then I’ve been surprised how many of my searches over the years seem to uncover an illustration by him, that I decided to cover more of his beautiful work.
Born and brought up in Hampstead, north London, Robert Tavener had always enjoyed art. As a boy he sat for hours making chalk drawings on the pavements. After school he took an office job for a short time before being called up into the army in 1940. He served in the Royal Artillery for six years and in the Second World War took part in the D Day landings at Arromanches, France. It was at the end of the war, whilst still a soldier, that he had the opportunity to pursue his love of art. For eight months, he studied drawing and painting at the College of the Rhine Army. This experience confirmed his wish to study art. On his return to London in 1946 he enrolled at Hornsey College of Art. Here, Robert took a National Diploma in Design, specialising in lithography; he also gained an Art teachers Diploma.
After college, Richard began his career as an art teacher, teaching for a few years in Kent. In 1953, now married, he was delighted to get a job teaching printmaking at Eastbourne College of Art and Design. He and his wife Jane, and later a daughter Mary, set up home in Eastbourne, the place he was to spend the rest of his life. These seashore illustrations are beautiful, really captures the atmosphere.
Robert soon set up a highly regarded printmaking department at Eastbourne College of Art. His success and reputation grew and he was invited to teach printmaking at St Martins School of Art in London for a day a week, which he did for several years. During this time he also worked as a freelance illustrator and received commissions from important clients such London Transport, Shell, the BBC and ICI.
He became a well known illustrator designing front covers for Homes and Gardens magazines, the Listener, and Liliput as well as hundreds of illustrations for childrens books by publishers such as Longman, Penguin, and Methuen images people often remember seeing if they were at school in the 1960s. His output in printmaking was prodigious. He produced most of the prints, mainly linocuts and lithographs, on an old Albion Press cast in 1882.
Making each print himself by hand, printing them in small limited editions. He described his work as: English countryside and English architecture. Shape, pattern, colour, texture, design. “In other words, my subject matter is a personal interpretation of the richness, variety, beauty, and the underlying relationship with the past, of our landscape and building.” He particularly loved the Sussex landscape and it influences much of his work. His images of the Downs, the farmland, the Sussex villages and the Sussex seaside were very important to him.
His poster designs for London Transport in the 1960s are striking examples of his work. The poster of the Horse Guards from 1967 invites people to visit London and see the changing of the guards, the clinking magic of the household cavalry. He then produced a series of linocuts and lithographs of the horse guards some of his most bold and colourful prints. A number were purchased a couple of years ago for the permanent collection of the Palace of Westminster Collection.
Robert went on to became Vice-Principal at Eastbourne College of Art where he worked until he retired in 1980. He continued making prints until the late 1980s when the printing press became too heavy for him to use. Then he started to paint in watercolour. His prints have become highly collected and his work is held in more than 25 public collections including the Government Art Collection and the Victoria and Albert Museum. He held over 35 solo exhibitions during his career and exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition every year for 34 years. A few years before he died he left a collection of his work to the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne.
Robert Tavener died in July 2004 after suffering a fall at his home. Since then his world wide audience of admirers has continued to grow, myself included.
Many thanks to Emma Mason, for her biography (above), her dedication to Robert’s work and for showing us his amazing illustrations in the first place.