Sunday, November 27, 2011

When my past became my future, I realised I was being carried by Angels.

I posted these Angels on Christmas Day 2010. and I would like to tell you the story behind them.

When I post homage covers or pastiches of other designers work, I like to make sure that I acknowledge the original artist, ensuring everyone understands that the design work is not mine, so that I am not awarded credit for something I have not done.

These Angels came into my life in 1973 as part of the advertising for the rock opera movie 'Jesus Christ Superstar'.
I was deeply affected by the movie and bought the soundtrack on cassette. The Angels were located just under the title on the cassette cover as shown in the picture below.

I was immediately struck by the Angels, and considered the image so beautiful, I was moved to paint this poster in purple gloss and Humbrol gold paint. It's 24 x 17 inches, on scrap technical drawing paper, and shown below. This scanned from a slide taken with my SLR I purchased in 1974.

And so it was until recently when I had reason to find out a little more about the Angels. The designer is Ernie Cefalu, and his story is here.
He designed the Angels as a logo on the album cover for songs from the musical of the same name by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice, released in 1970.

It is such a powerful image, one knows immediately it is 'right'.
The reason I had need to find out about the Angels, relates to my cover graphics of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, James Herbert Macnair, Frances Macdonald Macnair, and Talwin Morris, who were brilliant designers and artists, and who had their work published in the Studio magazine; hereafter this group will be known as The Four plus One.

I have posted two parts of my Omega Quest (which is still in process), where in part two, I visited the grave of Talwin Morris and his wife Alice, in Dumbarton Cemetery.

The Studio Magazine was an illustrated fine arts and decorative arts magazine, founded in Britain in 1893, and as part of my research into the works of The Four plus One, I have read a number of The Studio yearbooks, available online here. During an evening browsing session, I was astonished and delighted to find the image entitled 'ISCA' below in volumes 20 to 22, published in 1900. Having painted this image 37 years hence, it jumped out of the screen and slapped me about my bearded visage.

This is the Angels, there can be no doubt.

Who is the artist responsible for 'ISCA'? The artist who received an 'Honourable mention' for 'ISCA' is Ethel Larcombe, of given address Wilton Place, St. James's, Exeter, in Devonshire, England, UK, in the image below.

And who is Ethel Larcombe?

A little further delving gives us 'ISCA' as part of the Latin name for Exeter. The 1881 census gives Laura Ethel Larcombe born in 1877, (although the register of births says 1876, Ethel seems to have always had 1877 put as her year of birth,) at St. Johns Hospital School & Orphanage, High Street, Exeter. Her parents are John S. Larcombe, born 1837, listed as Schoolmaster, and Louisa J. Larcombe, born 1845, listed as Mistress of the Institution. Ethel had three older brothers, two older sisters, and one younger sister at that time.
A newspaper article gives the following in September 1869:
Mr. J.S. Larcombe, for five years master of the Heavitree National School, who has been appointed master of the St. John's Hospital School, in the room of Mr. Gould, has been presented with a testimonial by his pupils and friends at Heavitree. The present is a handsome black marble timepiece, which was purchased at the Civet Cat, in this city; and it was presented on Thursday by the Rev.Preb.Barnes in the grounds of the vicarage at Heavitree.

There are further newspaper references to Mr. J.S. Larcombe at Wilton House School in 1890.

We have found a little history to Ethel, but as a Graphic Designer and illustrator, she is well known.
There is a short biography here, taken from the book Postcards from the Nursery, The illustrators of children's books & postcards 1900-1950,
by Dawn and Peter Cope, which I reproduce below for academic clarity:

Ethel Larcombe was one of a large number of children born to John Samuel Larcombe and his wife Louisa, who ran a school in Exeter, where she lived all her life. Her contact with books and book illustration began at a young age and she became fascinated by the work of artists such as Walter Crane and Kate Greenaway, whose work she copied, to develop her talent. When the Kelmscott Chaucer was published in 1896 she resolved to work in the arts-and-crafts style, being impressed by the pictures of Edward Burne Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), and later dropped the mediaeval element in her work, to concentrate more on art nouveau styling. She was a prolific winner of art and design competitions run by The Studio magazine and soon came to the attention of Talwin Morris (1863-1911), the artist and book designer, who, in 1893, became art director at Blackie & Son. Between 1904 and 1912 he commissioned her to work for him, during which period she designed about twenty gilt book bindings for Blackie and its subsidiary Gresham. (Dawn and Peter Cope. Postcards From The Nursery).

Sans Update 16th December 2011.
The E.T.W.D. initals on the left hand side of the photograph stand for E.T.W. Dennis of Scarborough.
Edward Thomas West Dennis biographical details state that he moved to Scarborough, North Yorkshire in March 1870. This is some 277 miles north of Exeter, so this may be considered an unexplained inconsistency. E.T.W.Dennis was a printer of postcards, so that may be a connection between Ethel & Edward, but I don't know if Ethel was designing postcards as early as 1893.
Ethel Larcombe was one of the artists commissioned by Talwin Morris to produce work for Blackie & Son and Gresham publishers.
It is a small world right enough.

So, back to Ernie Cefalu, and his story of the album cover. There is no mention of Ethel Larcombe. Considering she designed the Angels image some seventy years before his design, I think this is a terrible injustice to her memory.
Although Ernie has stylised and adapted the design slightly, I believe Ethel Larcombe should be known as the designer of the Angels.

It is, and always will be, a powerful iconic image, and there is just the chance that, when reading The Studio in 1900, the image had the same effect on Talwin Morris as it had on me in 1974, and was the catalyst for Talwin commissioning work from Ethel.

It seems that part of my quest is to right wrongs, and undo injustice. I hope this is enough for Ethel.
It would be fitting to postscript this homage to Ethel with her last resting place. Exeter City Council have kindly digitized the alphabetical index cards of the three cemeteries they manage.

Ethel is interred in Exwick Cemetery and her date of burial is shown as 16th December 1940, then aged 64.
Rest in peace Ethel. Your work lives on.


Blogger Francine said...

Thank you for sharing this! I've been trying to find out information of Ehtel Larcombe. I purchased a original from a auction recently and been trying to find more about her. Thanks!

5:50 PM  
Blogger Sans Pantaloons said...

Francine; Welcome, I have added a postscript to show where Ethel is laid to rest. Maybe one day, I might visit her.

7:44 PM  
Blogger Francine said...

how did you find this?

8:25 PM  
Blogger Sans Pantaloons said...

Francine, the finding of Ethel's burial record was just serendipity. I thought it would be nice to find a photograph of Ethel, since a lot of people have mistakenly used the photograph of the tennis player of the same name.
Since Ethel died in 1940, there was a chance that she was killed during one of the air-raids over Exeter, so I went looking at those details, and the photographs taken at the time. There was a link to the council site and information regarding the digitizing of the burial records. I will continue to look for a photograph of Ethel, as I'm sure she will have been well regarded, and a reasonable celebrity in her day.
We may not have any luck though, as I'm also still looking for a photograph of Talwin Morris and Alice.

7:55 PM  
Blogger Julia Phillips Smith said...

And this is why we are such great friends.

I LOVE the angels graphic.

I LOVE proper credit being given to the proper people.

And I ADORE Jesus Christ Superstar.

4:03 PM  
Blogger Sans Pantaloons said...

Julia, lots of love and adoration there is! It was such a surprise to me; here was a Lady whose name I had only heard of as a by-product of my research into Talwin Morris, and she has literally been on my wall 10 feet away from me, for the past 38 years.
Fair-do's to Ernie too; he obviously recognised the power of the image, either consciously or sub-consciously.

5:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HI, FRANCINE HERE AGAIN. Just came across your last post about ethel larcombe. I always thought she was a tennis player as well. Any more luck finding more info? I will photograph my print I purchased and share it with you if you like. My email is:

11:23 PM  
Blogger Sans Pantaloons said...

Cheers Francine, I have sent you an email.

10:14 AM  

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