6/16/2024, 12:25:43

Mervyn Peake - Artist

Mervyn Peake was born on 11 July 1911 in Kuling, Central Southern China, the summer residence of his father. He was the younger son of the missionary doctor, Ernest Cromwell Peake, and his wife, Amanda (née Powell), a missionary nurse. In the calm following the Communist Revolution, the Peake family settled in Tientsin (now Tianjin), close to Peking. Apart from a sojourn in England during the First World War, Peake spent all his early years there, so that its landscape and way of life retained a strong hold on his imagination.

In 1923, the family finally settled permanently in England, and Mervyn attended Eltham College, Kent, where he excelled at drawing. He then studied at Croydon School of Art (1929) and the Royal Academy Schools (1929-32), where he won the Arthur Hacker Prize (1930). While still a student, he exhibited for his one and only time at the Royal Academy (1931). He then joined an artists’ colony on the Channel Island of Sark, in order to write and paint. He exhibited with the group on the island and, in 1934, in London at the Cooling Galleries.

On his return to England in 1935, Peake spent three years as a part-time teacher at the Westminster School of Art; while there, he held his first solo show, at the Calmann Gallery (March 1937), and married a student of the art school, the painter, Maeve Gilmore (in December of the same year). Their three children – Sebastian, Fabian and Clare – would appear frequently in his drawings.

In 1939, Peake published his first book Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor, an illustrated comic fantasy. This revealed him as an illustrator with an outstanding talent for the grotesque, ready to align himself to Romantic tendencies in British art.

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