This April, with the support of Arts Council England funding, Westminster Reference Library has been able to capitalise on the Peake family’s generous loan of a small collection of Mervyn Peake’s original works in a special free display alongside some work from other members of the family.
The exhibition comprised works by Mervyn Peake, his wife Maeve Gilmore and their eldest son Sebastian Peake, who died suddenly in September 2012.
All the drawings and sketches, never before seen in public, are dated between 1940 and 1950 and were in Sebastian Peake’s private home. My favourite was one large lovely painting of Maeve Gilmore dressed in blue with a white cat on her arm. A Picasso-esque oil of a Clown and a portrait of Sebastian aged 10 were also on display as well as one large painting by Maeve Gilmore, ‘View from Sark’.
The sketches were mainly of beautiful Maeve and of the children – I imagine Peake did not intend them for public viewing. They are simple pencil drawings but all the more powerful and stunning for their stark and intimate quality.
The display opened to the public on Wednesday 3 April (closing on Saturday 13 April), and the programme included a talk and poetry reading by Mervyn Peake’s surviving son Fabian on Wednesday 10 April. Mervyn Peake’s granddaughter, Clover, herself an artist and poet, also read some poetry at the event.
Another grandchild, Lewis Peake, led two free illustration technique workshops, on Thursdays 4 and 11 April. Both sessions, open to young and old, booked up immediately – showing how much demand there is for this kind of creative training.
We listed all exhibits and took plenty of pictures, which I will email to those who asked for a catalogue. A short film of the Peake Project is being finalised and edited and it will be ready to view in the next few months.
Particularly meaningful for us in libraries, Mr Les Sklaroff of Cameron House Books sent us an image of the handbill from a 1968 Westminster Peake exhibition (see above). It was held at Victoria Library about 9 months before Peake’s death. Mr Sklaroff is also in possession of a letter from the librarian at the time, Paul Chown, from later that same year in which he mentions that a smaller version of the exhibition was put on in Marylebone Library in early April. It was great to be able to continue the link with the Peakes, 45 years later…
“I want to thank you for holding this, it was very useful and shame I did not manage to thank you and the tutor yesterday! … hope there will be more of those workshops.”
“Just to say thank you so much for such a fascinating and enjoyable evening on the Peakes last night. I lapped it up (thinking of the white cats!). Warm wishes and I look forward to the next event.”
“Thank you for this wonderful and very special event, what a joy! And good to find the library – I’ll pop in and hang out next time I’m in London!”