Blair Hughes-Stanton was one of the most technically accomplished artists of his time, creating fine engravings rarely rivalled. Born in London in 1902, he studied at The Byam Shaw Art School, The Royal Academy Schools and at The Leon Underwood School of Painting and Sculpture between 1919 and 1924. Although an accomplished painter, he excelled as a wood-engraver and became one of the most significant book illustrators and designers of the 1920′s and 30′s. Hughes-Stanton specialised in the illustration and the production of illustrated books for small scale publishers such as The Golden Cockerel Press, The Cresset Press, The Greynog Press and his own Gemini Press. He counted D.H. Lawrence among his friends and made engravings for several of his works. Following the Second World War, during which he was captured and became a prisoner of war first in Crete, where he was severely wounded, and later in eastern Germany, he moved to Manningtree and taught at The Colchester School of Art (1945-7), St Martin’s (1947-8) and later for many years at the Central. In later life, lino-engravings became his preferred method of printmaking. Hughes-Stanton died in 1981. The Minories Art Gallery in Colchester organised a retrospective exhibition of his works in 1984.
Blair was a member of Colchester Art Society from its early days and exhibited in its first exhibition Jaw Cases, Athens, 1941 and An Emergency Operation in a Hospital Ward, Athens, 1941 (1)
Epithalamion (2) was written by Ida Graves (1909-1999), the images created by Hughes-Stanton. In 1933 together with Ida Graves, Hughes-Stanton’s long term partner, these artists set up the Gemini Press, financed by Sir Robert Sainsbury, with the purpose of producing books which would unite the work of poets and artists. This is their first volume which received the top prize in the book section at the Venice Biennale in 1937.
Epithalamion, meaning a nuptial song, is a poem in praise of the bride and groom, and a sequence of sexual imagery and symbolism, a celebration of love, consummation and conception. It is almost certainly a celebration of the unconventional, unrestrained love affair between Hughes-Stanton and Ida Graves. The image of the woman in the poem is one which dominated all of Hughes-Stanton’s work from 1931 until the Second World War.
For more information see Penelope Hughes-Stanton’s privately printed book The Wood-Engravings of Blair Hughes-Stanton, Private Libraries Association, 1991.
(1) See correspondence file with artists at the Imperial War Museums, London, which states that Hughes-Stanton wrote to the Committee in November 1943, after his return from Germany where he had been a prisoner of war. It also states that after a meeting with Kenneth Clark, he was commissioned to make three watercolours based on his experiences, for the fee of 25 guineas.
(2) Epithalamion originally was an ode written by Edmund Spenser (1552/3-1599) written to his bride Elizabeth Boyle in 1594 as a wedding gift. It was part of a volume entitled Amoretti and Epithalamion. Written not long since by Edmunde Spencer, published in London by William Ponsonby in 1595