Ian Neal

Time Was Away: A Notebook in Corsica


During the nineteen forties and fifties, artist John Minton (1917-1957) was a successful illustrator. Scholarship on Minton as illustrator is lacking. Instead, attention has focussed on Minton the Neo-Romantic artist and his struggle to accept new directions in art, notably abstraction. This paper focuses on his illustrations for Time Was Away: A Notebook in Corsica published 1948. The book was the result of collaboration between Minton and author/poet Alan Ross (1922-2001). Commissioned by publisher John Lehmann, it was a “lavish anti-austerity production” (Spalding, 2005) featuring nearly one hundred illustrations, half of which are landscapes. Praised by contemporary critic John Lewis, Minton’s illustrations “are both complementary to and an enlargement of the text.” Lewis placed Minton’s work in the company of Bewick, Tenniel, Caldecott and Cruikshank, and identifies him as a successful, contemporary example of those illustrators who “enrich the author’s meaning” (Lewis 1949).

The paper examines the range in Minton’s approach at two levels. Firstly, it considers his dual strategies of Romanticism and Realism. Minton conflates topographical concerns with Neo-Romantic tendencies and draws on the landscape traditions of the sublime and picturesque, and the trope of the figure in the landscape. Secondly, the paper examines the images within a register of autonomy. Some images, operate autonomously, procuring primarily aesthetic responses; in contrast, others demand more literal intertextual readings; still, a further category of semi autonomous images are identified which subtly evoke elements of the text, without being hostage to Ross’s prose. These works in particular, I argue, invite the reader/viewer to re-assemble text and image so as to re-envision and re-imagine the Corsican Landscape.

By examining text-image relationships, the place of landscape in post-war illustration, collaborative practice, and the relationship between fine art and illustration, the paper aims to contribute to forwarding the theorisation of illustration.





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