Even if you're not familiar with his books for children, you've probably seen Edward Ardizzone's work before, though you may not have realized it. Those well-thumbed vintage classroom copies of Charles Dickens's Bleak House or John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress you studied in English literature may well have featured his stylized pen and ink drawings as chapter heading vignettes (Click here to see an example) or as full color illustrations that elaborated the text (Example).
Considered one of Britain's foremost illustrators of his generation, Edward Ardizzone defies classification, since he excelled and gained success as both artist and writer. Not only did his talents establish his reputation in children's literature, but also as an accomplished war artist and a commercial illustrator. During his life Ardizzone authored more than twenty books and was the illustrator of more than 200 more. He is perhaps best known for his "Tim" series, but also for his contributions as illustrator to countless other children's books, including Christianna Brand's Nurse Matilda series.
Ardizzone's illustrations have the look of what most people today might recognize as the pen and ink style of editorial cartoons or a cartoon from The New Yorker. His drawings are characterized by well-placed lines drawn in black ink and crosshatched to show depth and shadow. In other illustrations Ardizzone may add color by dabbing a watercolor wash on key areas in the illustration to give a more muted sense of shadow and life to his sketches. It is this quick approach, recording the essentials in a free and fluid style, that no doubt assured his success as a war artist during World War II, where economy of line and an ability to catch the essence of a scene quickly were prerequisites for the job.
Ardizzone was born in French Indochina (today's Vietnam). His father, born of Italian parents (hence the surname) and raised in French colonial Algeria, was a telegraph engineer. The telegraph at that time was the equivalent of today's internet, an exciting new technology that represented a telecommunications revolution. While Ardizzone's father remained for a large part of Edward's childhood in Asia, Ardizzone's British mother thought it best, when Edward was five, to relocate the children to England, where they attended boarding school and were farmed out to various families and relatives during the long absences of one or both parents. This separation affected Edward deeply and perhaps was a contributing factor to his difficulty with academics. Not a strong student, he took to expressing his aptitude artistically.
In 1918 the extended family was reunited when they moved into 130 Elgin Avenue in the Maida Vale district in London, which was then a fairly new neighborhood developing along Edgware Road past Regent's Canal and Little Venice in the northwest quadrant of the city. Ardizzone remained there until a few years shortly before his death, and the streets surrounding The Prince Alfred Pub and The Warrington Hotel, where he socialized and frequently drew, are today little changed from when he knew them.
As a young man at the beginning of his professional career, however, his artistic inclination was not nurtured, and at his father's urging he began his adult life as a clerk in various trading and insurance companies, which he found dreary. To distract himself he attended drawing classes on the side and essentially received no formal art education as a fulltime art student, but rather more as an avocation.
1926 represented a turning point for Ardizzone when he received a sum of money from his father, resigned from his loathsome job, and set out on a journey around the world accompanied by his sister. Shortly thereafter he married and secured a job in commercial illustration.
In 1935 Ardizzone, now a father of two and established as an advertising artist (whose clients included Johnny Walker, Guinness and various British periodicals including Punch and Radio Times), published his first book, Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain, an adventure about a stowaway that he had had developed from a tale he had told to his children.
His ascent in the realm of children's literature was interrupted with the outbreak of World War II. All of Britain was consumed by the war effort and Ardizzone's artistic skills soon led him to a job as an official war artist posted in the bomb-ravaged cities of Britain and across the English Channel on the war-torn continent. He recorded major events from the Fall of France, the London Blitz, the Anzio Landing, Operation Overlord, and the invasion of Germany, among other campaigns. Ardizzone used his preferred style in watercolor and ink to create hundreds of pictures documenting the war, many of which can now be seen at the Imperial War Museum in South London. "He adored being a war artist," his daughter recalled. "And for the first time ever, he was financially secure". For his contributions as war artist, Ardizzone was made a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in 1971 (a British order of knighthood which rewards both civilian and military wartime service). Check the Imperial War Museum's online gallery to see examples of his wartime work (access info at end of this profile).
After the end of World War II, Ardizzone refocused on his modest success in children's writing and illustration. It wasn't until 1949, however, that he released the next installment in the "Tim" series, Tim to the Rescue. He received notice in 1955-6 when Eleanor Farjeon's The Little Bookroom, for which he provided the illustrations, won the Carnegie Medal and the Hans Christian Andersen Medal for writing. In 1956 Ardizzone received full acknowledge for his skills as illustrator when Tim All Alone earned him the inaugural Kate Greenaway Medal for its outstanding illustrations. (The Greenaway Medal is given by the UK's Library Association for distinguished illustration in a book for children and is on par with the US's Caldecott Medal).
The "Tim" series was to become Ardizzone's most famous creation. Tim's courage, parent-less independence, and unending adventures on the high seas have assured him a loyal following of generations of young readers. Some have attributed Ardizzone's success in the "Tim" stories and others like them to his knack for making the improbable probable. Tim achieves impossible feats-- surviving storms and ship wrecks and other calamities-- and the reader does not question it. Perhaps it is because, although Tim is heroic in his exploits, he is also human-- suffering sea sickness, being disciplined by the ship's crew, and mucking in with the ship's chores such as swabbing the decks and peeling potatoes in the galley. The illustrations, sometimes with dialog contained within cartoon dialog balloons, add information to the narrative and carry the plot forward. The inspiration for the coastal scenery in the "Tim" series is based on Ardizzone's childhood memories of the docks at Ipswich and the coastline, a landscape that held a special nostalgia for Ardizzone.
Nanny McPhee, a film released in 2005, was based on the Matilda books by Christianna Brand and illustrated by Ardizzone. It was Ardizzone's illustrations, however, that has brought the character of Nurse Matilda to life for children for decades, and no doubt inspired the make-up artist and costume designer who turned English rose Emma Thompson into the slightly hideous nanny of the film's title.
The collaboration with Christianna Brand is an interesting one to note. She and Ardizzone were cousins, and had often spent time together as children along with Edward's brothers and sisters with an eccentric grandmother in Suffolk, England, while their parents were posted far afield in Asia. The grandmother attempted to reign in her often mischievous grandchildren by telling them stories, one of the repertoire being Nurse Matilda, which Christianna Brand and Edward Ardizzone later turned into the Nurse Matlida series.
Ardizzone once said that his illustrations "must do more than just illustrate the story. They must elaborate it." He understood the illustrator's task, whether working with his own story or that of another author, to stimulate the reader's imagination by embellishing the story with the artist's pictures. Although some may take issue with this liberal definition of the illustrator's mandate with regard to illustrations for literary classics, in the realm of children's literature this philosophy was welcome.
Ardizzone's quick hand and his sparse cartoonish approach to illustration might well offer an extra attraction to today's young people, whose renewed fascination with graphic novels (what we used to call comic books) will make Ardizzone a easy sell. His clever and humorous stories, told both through his accomplished illustration and the compelling stories will assure him a dedicated following for many more years to come.
"Ardizzone is a story-teller on the grand scale," the Times Literary Supplement once explained. "He asks us to believe the most amazing things and we do, cheerfully, because his books offer us, in a thoroughly matter-of-fact way, both excitement and a vision of a world where children are competent to cope with and live through hair-raising experiences, a world where goodness and integrity always triumph."
RECOMMENDED WEB SITES:
Edward Ardizzone: A Concise Biography and Two Bibliographies with some other material compiled by his son Nicholas Ardizzone PhD (RCA)
Edward Ardizzone / Bloomsbury Author Information
Imperial War Museum London Collections Archive
Search "Ardizzone" in the field Artist Name to see examples of his war drawings.
Litte Tim and the Brave Sea Captain by Edward Ardizzone
Little Tim and Ginger by Edward Ardizzone
Tim All Alone by Edward Ardizzone
Tim and Charlotte by Edward Ardizzone
Tim and Lucy Go To Sea by Edward Ardizzone
Tim in Danger by Edward Ardizzone
Tim to the Lighthouse by Edward Ardizzone
Tim to the Rescue by Edward Ardizzone
Illustrated by Edward Ardizzone
Nurse Matilda by Christianna Brand and illustrated by Edward Ardizzone
Nanny McPhee by Christianna Brand and illustrated by Edward Ardizzone
The Witch Family by Eleanor Estes and illustrated by Edward Ardizzone
Miranda the Great by Eleanor Estes and illustrated by Edward Ardizzone
Pinky Pye by Eleanor Estes and illustrated by Edward Ardizzone
The Alley by Eleanor Estes and illustrated by Edward Ardizzone
The Little Bookroom by Eleanor Farjeon and Illustrated by Edward Ardizzone