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Your place to explore new perspectives on British art from 1900 to now. Through interviews, films, image galleries and essays, we uncover the creative lives of the people behind the art on our walls.

Inside cover of a book showing a scene from the story Treasure Island. A man in red trousers and red and white striped top is lying on ground to right and in background is a beach with a mountain in the distance and a masted ship in the sea sailing away.

Shelf Life: Telling Books by their Jackets

Jane Holt

[ Library and Archive )

Our Librarian, Jane Holt, explores some of the brilliant illustrated books that have been added to the Gallery collection.

Our very popular exhibition Undercover: the Art of the Book Jacket provided a sneak look at some of the wonderful examples of illustrated books and book jackets we hold in the Library and Archives. We are very pleased to have recently acquired several additions to this fantastic collection. Jeremy Greenwood and Alan Swerdlow very generously gifted two of these illustrated books and provided funds to purchase a third, with two further titles acquired through the Pallant House Gallery Library Book Fund.

Bookcover showing trench warfare and a road intersection with the title Road to Glory horizontally and author Richard Aldrington vertically

This wonderful book jacket, designed by Paul Nash for Roads to Glory, (originally published by Chatto and Windus, London, in 1930), is a collection of Aldington’s short stories about the First World War. It is one of several commercially published book jackets Nash produced during the 1920s. He drew on his experience as a War Artist to illustrate dust jackets for works by other key First World War writers, such as Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon. He was also one of the artists to provide illustrations for a subscribers’ edition of T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Roads to Glory is a welcome addition to the extensive collection of books illustrated, written, designed by and about Paul Nash held in the Clare Neilson Collection given to the Gallery by Jeremy Greenwood and Alan Swerdlow.

Bookcover printed with abstract pattern in black and white
Title page from Robert Graves. Welchman’s Hose showing a bird perched on a woodcut block print
Marron bookcover of Nativity by Siegfried Sassoon with abstract shapes beneath the text
Abstract nativity scene in green and brown


Jeremy Greewnwood and Alan Swerdlow also kindly gave us two other books after seeing the Undercover exhibition, Treasure Island illustrated by John Minton and Savage Gold illustrated by Robert Medley.


Inside cover of Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island with black and white sketch to the left of a masted ship with a man looking on
Inside cover of a book showing a scene from the story Treasure Island. A man in red trousers and red and white striped top is lying on ground to right and in background is a beach with a mountain in the distance and a masted ship in the sea sailing away.

Robert Medley (1905-1994) was a painter, printmaker, theatre designer, teacher and writer. After studying at the Royal Academy school and Slade School of Art 1924-6 he assisted Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell between 1929 and 1934. He taught at Chelsea School of Art from 1932-9, painting and stage design at the Slade 1950-8, and was head of the fine art department at Camberwell School of Art.

Barnett Freedman’s jacket design for The Nonsense Verse of Edward Lear is a fine example of Freedman’s work, and purchased for the Illustrated Books Special Collection.

Bookcover for the Complete Nonsense of Edward Lear by Holbrook Jackson which is written one word on each line down the cover in varied fonts on a red and white illustrated background

Freedman was the subject of our major 2020 exhibition (sadly closed early because of COVID-19) Barnett Freedman: Designs for Modern Britain. He was a master illustrator and lithographer producing numerous commercial works including book jacket designs for many well-known and classic authors such as Leo Tolstoy, Charles Dickens, Edward Lear, Walter de la Mare and Siegfried Sassoon.

Freedman developed new techniques and innovative methods in illustration, lithographic printing and his design layout. Ian Rogerson, in his essay for the catalogue of the Barnett Freedman exhibition, writes:


‘Among the last book jackets that Freedman executed for Faber & Faber were the centenary edition of The Complete Nonsense of Edward Lear (1947) … the publisher required a design that was to be lithographed on both the cloth binding and the paper wrapper….Freedman’s skill in reconciling the bold pen drawings of Lear with his own art resulted in a striking cover design’.

Source: Rogerson, Ian. ‘Book Illustration: Faber & Faber, the Limited Editions Club and the Heritage Press’ in Clarke, G. et al. Barnett Freedman Designs for Modern Britain. Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, 2020, p.65.


The final book highlighted in this blog is important for the photographs that illustrate it.

Christopher Red book jacket with photograph of a stone staircase with people sat on some of the steps - Kininmonth, Rome Alive


John Deakin (1912-72) worked for Vogue in 1950’s, and had the dubious honour of being the only photographer fired twice from the same post at the magazine. He was a Soho habitué, friend and drinking partner with many artists who featured in his ‘Painters and Pictures’ photographic portfolio for Vogue. Robin Muir featured these in the exhibition and publication Gods and Monsters: John Deakin’s Portraits of British Artists at Pallant House Gallery in 2010.


Black and white photographs. At the top a photograph of a shoe stall at a market with pairs of shoes hanging from the stall and a woman wearing a headscarf behind the stall and the bottom photograph of a Roman nanny sitting on a stone plinth with a child at her knee
Two black and white photographs one above the other. Top photograph is of Monte Tarpeia, a Roman ruin in Rome and the bottom photograph is of the Roman arch of Constantine, a triumphal arch with a large arch in the middle and two smaller archways either side

Deakin was a prolific photographer, and worked on several book projects, but only London Today (Satum Press, London. 1947) and Kininmonth’s Rome Alive were published. The black and white photographs of Rome in the 1940s shows Deakin’s great skill in capturing the character of people, the everyday life of the city, and the beauty of Rome’s ancient ruins.

The Illustrated Books Special Collection is part of Pallant House Gallery Library and Archives, which open by appointment.

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