“Touching” history with The Illustrated London News’ original artwork collection

ILN hosted a viewing of the artworks from our archive to a handful of auctioneers. The archive is not as complete as it once was, but still includes illustrations and paintings by high-profile artists including Terence Cuneo, Bryan de Grineau, Fortunino Matania and Stephen Ward

17 Oct 2014

by ILN

Touching history

Many of these Fortunino Matania illustrations have been in the ILN archives for over 100 years

On Tuesday we hosted a viewing of the artworks archive of The Illustrated London News for a handful of auctioneers. The archive is not as complete as it once was, but still includes illustrations and paintings by high-profile artists including Terence Cuneo, Bryan de Grineau,Fortunino Matania and Stephen Ward

The auctioneers included 25 Blythe Rd, Christie’s, Bonhams and Sotheby’s, who valued the items and advised on the best way to sell them. Chris Beetles of the Chris Beetles Gallery also came along to give us the benefit of his vast experience in 18th-, 19th– and 20th-century watercolours and illustrations.

It was apparent from the start that what we had unwrapped with anticipation the previous day was a unique collection.

Touching history 2

A favourite Matania illustration: a depiction of soldiers snatching a few hours of calm from the chaos of war

The Fortunino Matania reportage illustrations of World War I and World War II, and of early 20th century royals, are historically accurate and technically excellent. To imagine that many of these were initially sketched out in the front-line trenches or live at the coronation of King George V is extraordinary.

Undoubtedly the most exciting moment was when the very knowledgeable Grazia, our in-house historian, while attempting to answer my questions about a pencil sketch of the “Hampstead Parliament” noticed at the end of her pointed finger, the signature of Terence Cuneo, the official artist for the Coronation of Elizabeth II, immortalised on his death in 1996 by a statue at Waterloo station. This sketch was tucked away among the “unknown artists” pile and could very easily have been missed.

Touching history

Terence Cuneo’s sketch of “Hampstead Parliament”, saved from exile to the “anonymous” pile. Note the signature, lower centre, beside the woman’s head

It was pleasing to see Richard Slocombe, senior curator from the Imperial War Museum, spend two hours forensically inspecting some of the works. He pointed out a fascinating drawing of Mussolini, surrounded by fans presenting the Nazi salute on his visit to London in 1910 and who’s recognisable, flawed arrogance Matania captures with obvious ease. There were many more pieces every bit as interesting.

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Gabriel Heaton, Sotheby’s books & manuscripts specialist, surveys the Terence Cuneo artwork, commissioned by the ILN to mark the wedding of Queen Elizabeth II in 1947

It’s unlikely that these works will be seen together again as they will be sold at auction over the coming months, and it was apparent that these highly experienced specialists, who will have seen a great deal of artworks in their time, felt the same sense of privilege and of “touching” history as we at ILN did.

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