Art News

The Fleming Collection To Showcase John Burningham’s Illustrations

artwork: John Burningham - Illustration from "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" by Ian Fleming, 1964 - Published by Jonathan Cape. - Courtesy of the artist. On view at the Fleming Collection, London in "John Burningham: An Illustrated Journey" from September 13th until December 22nd.

London.- A celebration of the rich and varied career of John Burningham, one of Britain’s most distinguished and best-loved illustrators, is to be held at the Fleming Collection at 13 Berkeley Street, London W1 from September 13th to December 22nd. The retrospective exhibition, entitled “John Burningham: An Illustrated Journey”, will include illustrations, working drawings and previously  unseen archive material. It will be accompanied by a new book about Burningham published by The Fleming-Wyfold Art Foundation, the charity that runs The Fleming Collection.

artwork: John Burningham - Illustration from "Borka the Adventures of a Goose with no Feathers", 1963 - Published by Tom Maschler. Courtesy of the artist, and  the Fleming Collection.The artistic achievements of Burningham, who marked his 75th  birthday earlier this year, have been extraordinary. He is both the author and illustrator of many children’s books, did the illustrations for ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ by Ian Fleming, and produced a series of superb travel posters which will go on show in a simultaneous exhibition at The London Transport Museum. The Fleming Collection, which has become an embassy for Scottish art in London, will also show  sketches from Burningham’s time working on slum clearance schemes in Glasgow in the 1950s. Burningham was born in Surrey in 1936 and attended nine different schools, including Naemoor, near Dunfermline, and Summerhill, A.S. Neill’s famous alternative school where lessons were not compulsory. There, helped by an excellent teacher and a great deal of time spent in the art room, he laid the foundations for his life’s work. On leaving in 1953 he registered as a conscientious objector rather than do National Service in order to please his pacifist father. Among a variety of tasks that he carried out during this period of non-military duties was slum clearance in the Govan district of Glasgow and some of his sketches of life in this tough, industrial environment will be included in the exhibition.

On the strength of these he was fast-tracked onto a course in graphic design and illustration at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London, where he met fellow student Helen Oxenbury, who he married in 1964. She is also a well-known illustrator of children’s books. Burningham’s first break came when he was commissioned by London Transport to design a poster for them. “Please avoid the rush hour” appeared in 1961 and eight further posters followed along with other work for  the British Transport Commission. Some of these will be included in The Fleming Collection’s exhibition and the full range will go on show at The London Transport Museum in Covent Garden Piazza, London WC2 from September 12th to December 2nd. The first children’s book written and illustrated by Burningham was ‘Borka: The Adventures of a Goose With No Feathers’ published in 1963, which was awarded the Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration. Many other books followed, including ‘Mr Gumpy’s Outing’, for which Burningham won a second Greenaway Medal.

He was recently nominated as a British entry for the 2012 Hans Christian Andersen Award presented by the International Board on Books for Young People. The success of Borka led to a commission to illustrate ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’, the only children’s book written by Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond novels and grandson of Robert Fleming, founder of Flemings bank. The Fleming Collection, now an independent charity, grew out of the corporate collection of Scottish art set up by the bank. Burningham made his own model of Chitty and suspended it from the ceiling using fishing line before taking photographs of it from every angle. The remains of the model, now minus its wings, and some of the original working drawings will go on show in the exhibition at The Fleming Collection. Burningham recalls that the only change that Fleming, a heavy smoker, made to his illustrations was to ask for the addition of a striped Tabac sign to a drawing of Paris.

artwork: John Burningham - Illustration from "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" by Ian Fleming, 1964 Published by Jonathan Cape. Courtesy of the artist and the Fleming Collection, London.

In 1968 Flemings, the former merchant bank, moved into new London offices and David Donald, one of the directors, suggested that it would be a good idea to purchase a few paintings in order to brighten up the many bare walls. The only guidelines he was given by the Board were that, in view of the company’s Scottish origins the paintings should be by Scottish artists or of Scottish scenes by any artist. David Donald was able to buy quality paintings by artists such as the Scottish impressionist William McTaggart, the Glasgow Boys, and the Scottish Colourists for sums which today seem very low. He was also able to buy two paintings, “Lochaber No More” by John Watson Nicol (1856-1926) and “The Last of the Clan” by Thomas Faed (1826-1900), which have become the most famous images of the Highland Clearances. The Fleming Collection is noted for it outstanding examples of work by the Colourists, many of which were loaned to the Scottish Colourist exhibition at the Royal Academy, London and Dean Gallery, Edinburgh in 2000. The Collection was never regarded as an investment, but rather as a means of promoting a pleasant, stimulating and sometimes challenging environment for both staff and visitors alike. At the same time the Collection aimed to foster Scottish art and encourage young Scottish artists. Undoubtedly, much of the success of the Collection stems from the fact that it has been built up, at any one time, by one person, or two at the most, not by a committee; committees rarely agree on what should be bought and end up buying everyone’s second or third choices! Following the announcement of the sale of the bank, the Fleming Collection was sold in April 2000 to a new charitable foundation, endowed by the Fleming Family, called The Fleming-Wyfold Art Foundation. The Foundation acquired premises in Berkeley Street , London where it converted an empty retail space into a gallery named The Fleming Collection. The gallery opened to the public in January 2002 and holds four exhibitions of Scottish art annually. Over the years the gallery has brought public collections to a London audience, exhibitions have been held from the Fergusson Gallery, Perth and Kinross Council; City Art Centre, Edinburgh; McManus Galleries and Museum, Dundee; The National Galleries of Scotland; Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, University of Glasgow. Exhibitions surveying the work of artists such as DY Cameron, William McTaggart, Edward Baird and James Pryde have taken place and new research on these artists has been published by the Foundation. Annually an exhibition will be drawn from the permanent collection focusing on a single theme, genre or period. Often exhibitions curated by The Fleming Collection tour to other museums and galleries. Visit the collection’s website at …