Denzil John George Reeves (1926-2008)

The Vine, 1969, Pen and ink calligraphy/lettering and watercolour on paper, 22 x 16 ¼ in, Signed and dated

[CAS 16] Acquired in 1973


Denzil John George Reeves (1926-2008)

Pleasure it is, 1975, Pen and ink calligraphy/lettering and watercolour on paper, 23 x 11 in, Signed and dated

[CAS 62]



Denzil John George Reeves was born in Hailsham in Sussex on the 16th of January 1926, the son of Robert Reeves and his wife Elizabeth Ann née Boniface, who married at Hailsham in 1921. At the age of 15, in 1941, Reeves obtained a scholarship to Eastbourne School of Art, where he was encouraged by one of his teachers, Beryl Dean (1911-2001), an influential designer of ecclesiastical embroidery, to take up calligraphy. In 1944 he was conscripted into the army and went to Poona in India and Germany. He left military service in 1947. In 1951 Reeves married Patricia Margaret Hurst at Tonbridge, Kent, and shortly afterwards obtained a post as a commercial artist in Colchester working at E. M. Mason’s, Cowdray Avenue (1951 to 1954). Then in 1954 he took a position as a studio steward at Colchester School of Art and, in 1958, started teaching printmaking full time under John O’Connor (q.v.) and subsequently Anthony Atkinson (q.v.). Reeves taught at the school until his retirement in 1983, eventually becoming Head of the Printmaking Department.

During his time teaching, Reeves still worked as an artist and calligrapher, working on commissions such asThe Golden Rose Book (1), an anniversary present to Sir Winston Churchill and Lady Churchill from their children on the occasion of their Golden Wedding Anniversary, in 1958. In 1962-1964 Reeves produced a set of four poems, highlighted in gold leaf, relating to each season with hand drawn and coloured illustrations of the seasonal flowers around them. The poems included The Question(verses 2 and 3) by Percy Byssche Shelley (1792-1822) written in 1820 for ‘Spring’; Summer Images (verses 12 and 20) by John Clare (1793-1864) for 'Summer'; October (lines 1 to 17) by Edward Thomas (1878-1917) written in 1917 for 'Autumn'; The Winter Evening by William Cowper (1731-1800) written in 1794 for 'Winter'. To the reverse of each picture, there is a hand drawn description naming all the plants and flowers around the border to the front. He also worked on three editions of the Guiness Book of Records (1971,72,73), including the layout and illustrations of the 1972 19th edition, which shows on its front and back covers trompel'oeil images of shopfronts on a blue background (2). The cover type and frontispiece are hand drawn, following the convention of illuminated manuscripts.

Reeves produced the layout and calligraphy for a book entitled Raydon Airfield: Fighter Station to Farmland (3) by Graham Cross in 1991. He was very much involved with the village life and the church at Raydon, Suffolk, where he lived for many years. He had a house just over the road from the church and was a Churchwarden there (4). He died in Raydon, in June 2008, aged 82 years. Reeves worked on  many more commissions (see below) until his death in 2008. After his retirement, he visited various primary schools where he gave demonstrations of his craft. He was an early member of the Suffolk Craft Society (founded in 1970) and Colchester Art Society.


The Vine

This poem entitled The Vine was written by Robert Herrick (1591-1674), a 17th century poet and cleric who wrote over 2,500 poems, about half of them appearing in a major work: Hesperides (1648). This is a lose translation of a piece by the Greek poet Anacreon (c.582-c.485 BC) famous for his drinking songs and hymns. Herrick made frequent references to lovemaking and the female body in his earlier works, as is the case here where he affectionately mocks his own body. This is a funny little poem about a wet dream.

Pleasure it is

Pleasure it is is a 16th century choral music prelude written by William Cornysh the Younger (sometimes spelt Cornyshe or Cornish) (1465-1523), Master of the Chapel Royal under Henry VII and Henry VIII. The song was printed in 1530 in Wynkyn de Worde's (5) Twenty Songs (Bassus), a book of twenty part-songs (6). This song is folio 34-5. The melody of the song hasn't survived but it was set to music by modern composers such as Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), as 'Spring Carol', No 9 in his Ceremony of Carols (1942) and John Nicholson Ireland (1879-1962) as ‘A thanksgiving’, No 1 in his Five Sixteenth Century Poems (1938).

The poem is a celebration of spring and the reawakening of nature, with birds singing, crops growing, lambs being born. It is a thanksgiving song. In the poem (as transcribed below) the word iwis,a 12th century word of Middle English Anglo-Norman origin, means certain or certainly. Purveyance stands for provision and also charity.

Selected Commissions

The National Trust (book marks, playing cards etc.)

The Queen (presentation work)

The Queen Mother (presentation work)

Prince Charles (presentation work)

The Prime Minister of Malaysia (presentation work)

Colchester & Tendring Councils

Dr Johnson’s House, London

Palm Tree Press Ltd, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk (religious posters)

Various churches in East Anglia

Various books illustrations including maps for Just a Few Lines by Paul Jennings, a book about the Golden Age of steam trains published by Guinness Superlatives Ltd, London, 1969

Selected Exhibitions

The Minories, Colchester, Exhibition of Calligraphy and Illumination, 1970 (26 Oct – 14 Nov); Denzil Reeves: Calligraphy, CAS sponsored exhibition, 1980 (19 Oct - 16 Nov)

Suffolk Craft Society

Suffolk Painters

(1) The illuminated manuscript contained 29 paintings by well-known artists, such as John Nash and Augustus John, of gold and yellow roses from the walled vegetable garden at Chartwell, Churchill’s home in Kent. The book is at Chartwell, now a National Trust property.

(2) The front of the book is the rendering of an antique shop populated with items from the book itself. The back of the book reproduces the same view but from behind the glass.

(3) The book contained 5 illustrated pages and included a list of aces of the 353rd Fighter Group. It was produced for the visit by the veteran US airmen of the Raydon airfield.

(4) He produced for it a booklet entitled A Walk round St Mary’s Church, Raydon.

(5) Wynand "Wynkyn" de Worde(died c. 1534) was a Dutch printer and publisher in London, recognized as the first to popularize the products of the printing press in England.

(6) Twenty Songs is a collection of sacred, secular and textless (possibly instrumental) songs in three or four parts known as ‘XX Songes’, or ‘Twenty Songs’.