Wordsworth Trust makes waves with Ancient Mariner illustrations

  • 8 August 2007

The Art Fund has purchased a spellbinding collection of drawings for the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere, illustrating Samuel Taylor Coleridge's famous poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

The haunting drawings by writer and artist Mervyn Peake (1911-1968) are regarded as the most powerful illustrations ever made of the poem, and mark Peake’s greatest achievement as an illustrator.

The Art Fund paid £35,000 for the entire collection and presented it to the Wordsworth Trust in honour of its late director, Dr Robert Woof CBE.

Mervyn Peake began work on The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in 1943 while he was recovering from a nervous breakdown. He knew the poem well and his interpretation of it is deeply felt, capturing the suffering of the mariner, the albatross and the crew with astonishing power. Stranded in a desolate world, the figures in the drawings are dark and unsettling, but at the same time possess a mesmerising dignity and grace.

The drawings have been used to illustrate the poem in many different publications since they were first printed in Poetry London in 1946.

Drawn in Indian ink and wash, the Rime of the Ancient Mariner illustrations have been described as a technical tour de force. Peake had a very close understanding of pencil drawing, and the detailed cross-hatching style which he uses in the Ancient Mariner illustrations is a clear demonstration of his remarkable talent.

The drawings will be on display at the Wordsworth Museum until the end of September.

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Wordsworth Trust

Mervyn Peake