Return to site

Bevis Hiller and Beresford Egan

· Fine Book Collecting,Bevis Hillier,Beresford Egan,Art Deco,Art Moderne

Part A – Bevis Hillier

The first thing I saw when I came across the book shown below was the whimsical cover. And as my readers know I love whimsy and illustrations – and the book has 150 Black & white illustrations and 10 in colour. And many photos of dust jackets – and I know that you can age a volume by looking at the dust jacket art.

The Decorative Arts of the Forties and Fifties: Austerity/Binge; Bevis Hillier; Clarkson N. Potter, Inc./Publisher, New York, 1975. First American edition.

From the blurb – John Russell. Art critic of the London Sunday Times, has described Bevis Hillier as “the demon barber of our profession – you never know what he’ll be up to next, but you know it will be mischievous.” Those who have read Hillier’s two books on Art Deco – books that became the prime inspiration for the dominant fashion revival of the 1960s and early ‘70s – will know that behind the wit and pyrotechnics of his writings, there is a scholarly and original mind at work. In this book Hillier does for the forties and fifties what he previously did for the Art Deco period. With vivacious authority he teaches us to look at the design of two historic decades in a totally new way.

And here is what Wikipedia has to say about Hillier:

Bevis Hillier (born 28 March 1940) is an English art historian, author and journalist. He was employed as a journalist on The Times from 1963 (on the editorial staff until 1968; antiques correspondent from 1970 to 1984; deputy literary editor from 1981 to 1984). From 1984 to 1988, he was an associate editor of the Los Angeles Times. He has since been a reviewer for The Spectator.

In 1968 Hillier's book Art Deco of the 20s and 30s was published by Studio Vista. This was the first major work on a hitherto neglected genre of art that had previously been referred to as Art Moderne (the term Art Moderne has since come to be used to refer to the later streamlined style of Art Deco in the 1930s). Hillier's use of the term Art Deco became definitive. In 1971 Hillier curated a major Art Deco show at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, which helped to increase popular awareness of this style.

In 1969 Studio Vista published Hillier's Cartoons and Caricatures, a study of caricature from the 13th century to the late 20th. Hillier has also written books on ceramics and posters, as well as The Style of the Century (1983), a review of the various styles of art in the 20th century, from Art Nouveau through psychedelia and pop art to punk.

Hillier's major work, however, is the authorised biography of Sir John Betjeman. It took Hillier 25 years to research and write, and was published by John Murray in three volumes (1988, 2002 and 2004).

Part B – Beresford Egan

The second thing I noted after picking up the book was the name Bevis Hillier. I knew the name from my Egan collection – Hillier was a good friend of Egan’s.

In 2010, I bought a small collection of correspondence, always written on notepaper or cards with Egan’s illustrations, from a London dealer.

In August 2020, I wrote 3 consecutive musings on “Building a Collection”. The first musing was an Introduction and the next two were focused on a real life example – my Egan collection. The first of those two musings was called Building a Beresford Egan Collection – Basic Items followed by Building a Beresford Egan Collection – The Spice. To quote from the latter: “Last week, I used my Beresford Egan collection to demonstrate accumulating the basic items – “A”, “B”, “C” items and so on. If you collect all of the works of an author/illustrator you have a complete collection, which is great. Other collectors can duplicate your feat. If you have one unique item in your collection, then you have a unique collection. This is the Spice! The more unique items you have, then the more special and notable your collection becomes.”

“Egan was also an actor and he starred in several films in the 1940’s. One of his best friends was an actor by the name of Derek Tansley, who appeared in many more films including the Hammer film The Crimson Cult with Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee; The Servant with Dirk Bogarde and Sarah Miles; and The Crimson Pirate with Burt Lancaster. Egan was a great letter writer and he corresponded diligently and, as you can see from the attached photos, his penmanship was spectacular. Tansley accumulated his letters and cards from Egan in a large, white envelope, on which Tansley wrote “Cards and correspondence from Beresford Egan, artist extraordinaire”. I acquired this treasure trove that contained Egan illustrated cards and items containing original drawings. Included were the 5 Storicards, 1960, that comprised the ninth, and last, of the “A” items, i.e. works written and illustrated by Egan. The attached photos shows the cover of one of the Storicards and one of Egan’s full page letters, wherein Egan addresses Tansley as “Dear Giant” and signs it “Tiny Tim”. This is one of the correspondence collections that I have been able to acquire.”

In that musing I used the Tansley correspondence as the “spice example”. I could have used
the Hillier correspondence.

So, it is cool that Hillier coined the phrase “Art Deco” and I am sure that I will enjoy reading his book but I will always hold Hillier in high regard for keeping the Egan correspondence which has Spiced Up my collection. Look at the beautiful spice below.

All Posts

Almost done…

We just sent you an email. Please click the link in the email to confirm your subscription!