Obituary: Faith Jaques

Nicholas Tucker
Wednesday 06 August 1997 23:02
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Faith Jaques was one of the outstanding illustrators responsible for the renaissance of British picture books during the last three decades. Her special gift was an ability to translate the emotional tone of a text into the strong visual atmosphere created by her pen-and-ink drawings. Coming to colour comparatively late she was equally adept here, illustrating texts she was now writing herself. Tilly's House (1979) - the story of a Dutch doll - was her first picture book as author and illustrator, and still remains one of her best.

Born in Leicester in 1923, Jaques was a prodigious reader and artist as a child. Leaving grammar school at 15, she went to Leicester College of Art in 1941-42. Its stern commitment to anatomy, perspective and the study of the histories of architecture, furniture and costume was to stand her in good stead in the years to come.

A spell with the WRNS got her away from a home she had for some time outgrown. Her new duties included control of a filing department containing over a million photographs, holiday snaps included, of Germany and Occupied Europe, with particular attention given to pictures of coastlines and village approaches.

In London after the Second World War she attended the Central School of Arts and Crafts on a grant so low she was forced to lodge in a Salvation Army Hostel for her first six months. Part-time art teaching and many commercial commissions were to follow, including over 500 drawings for the Radio Times, such an important patron for all artists over many years. It was only by 1968 that she had enough confidence to abandon teaching for full-time book illustration.

Her brilliance soon found many outlets, including Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1967), although more recent editions are illustrated by Quentin Blake. She also provided meticulous art-work for Hugh Evelyn's multi-volume History of Costume (1966-70). The hard work this entailed was meat and drink to an artist who, in her own words, always believed that "information sparks imagination, and sound drawing underpins creative flight".

One of the distinctive characteristics of Faith Jaques's book illustrations is the sensitive and creative way they complement an author's text. In Nina Bawden's classic children's novel Carrie's War (1975), we know for example that Carrie and Nick get off their train at a small Welsh railway station. In Jaques's cover illustration, we see all the extra details as well: a porter's trolley, a shabby arcade and diminutive waiting room and in the background, coal tips and a working mine. More significantly, the two young evacuees are pictured standing on the platform very much as they are feeling at that particular moment in the story: small, isolated and uncertain what to do next. Later on, their glum host Mr Evans, up to that moment an unattractive character, is drawn crouched by his kitchen fire. Once grimly forbidding, he now looks shrunken and dejected. This reflects the moment in the text when both children come to feet sorry for him despite his many faults.

Lucky the author with such a faithful and intelligent interpreter; other writers who benefited from her skills included Philippa Pearce, Allan Ahlberg, and Henry Treece. Leon Garfield was another beneficiary, with Jaques's illustrations for his London Apprentice series (1976-78) among her finest work. Long out of print, these must inevitably become collectors' items if they are not so already.

In 1987 Jaques left London for Bath. By now she had also done much to improve the shaky rights of freelance artists faced by the indifferent might of some of the big publishers. As Douglas Martin writes in his 1989 study of British illustrators, The Telling Line:

No other individual can have

achieved more on behalf of the professional community in matters of such as establishing the artist's ownership of original drawings, the right to sell them after an agreed period, and the right to a continuing interest in the ongoing commercial success of an edition to which they had made a substantial contribution.

Towards the end of her career she also branched out with a brilliant series of cut-out picture books. The best of these is The Village (1983), a model crammed with everything imaginable for sale and radiating the affectionate warmth with which this artist was always able to surround favourite objects and people without every straying into the type of sentimental mawkishness she so fiercely despised.

Faith Heather Jaques, children's book illustrator and artist: born Leicester 13 December 1923; died 12 July 1997.

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