Alphonse - the complete illustrations
Watercolours by John Ward, and text by his son George, edited by CS Lewis, finally published by Chatto and Windus in 1972. Specially bound with proof reproductions, the catalogue of the exhibition at the Maas Gallery and photographs of the installation, with a newspaper clipping, in two volumes in brown calf, housed in a slip case.
In his Who's Who entry John Ward listed 'book illustration' as his recreation. This project was taken over after two pages by his young son George whilst he was suspended from school. The principal character, Alphonse, is a travelling magician who has a mysterious black box given to his great grandfather by the Emperor of Siam. His magic tricks pull crowds from every corner of the village, and the plot deals with the capture of a pair of burglars. There are similarities between Alphonse's wife, Sarah, and John's wife Alison, and between Jack and George's brother, also called Jack. It also amused John to include the names of his friends in or above shop windows in one of the village scenes. While working on the illustrations, John Ward saw Blake's drawings to the Poems by Mr. Gray which were an important rediscovery in the early 1970s. George remembered his father returning home from an exhibition at the Tate Gallery and tearing up the illustrations he had prepared for the book, only to begin again from scratch, and it is Blake's use of colour which exerted the strongest influence over the illustrations to Alphonse. His book illustrations had previously been in soft and muted tones, if they were coloured at all. The Alphonse illustrations have a richness and luminosity inspired by Blake which does much to enhance the soft, gentle charm of the text. John would probably have done the entire book in colour, but in the '70s colour printing costs were prohibitively high, and each alternate page therefore has an illustration which is in sepia tone. His favoured technique was to cut up portions of the text and arrange them on a blank page; he then drew the scene around the text. Sometimes he added his own lettering, and more often than not he allowed the colour or theillustration to spill slightly across the text, so that hardly an area on the page was left blank. By this stage he knew the publishers at Chatto and Windus very well and they gave him almost complete free reign to do as he pleased. There was very little promotion behind the book, but despite that it was well received. The Times Literary Supplement of November 1972 spoke of 'a pleasant and romantic picture of the small Herefordshire village in which the story is set'.