Often described as the ultimate Renaissance Man, Mervyn Peake was just eight when his father, a medical doctor, arranged for a Mandarin expert in calligraphy, to teach him the art. Soon he was able to form many of the six hundred plus characters that make up the language.
At the age of twelve, Mervyn left the Orient for his boarding school in England, where his talent at drawing was noticed by his art master, and frequently in demand from fellow pupils. The Royal Academy followed a short period at Croydon School of Art, and from his early twenties onwards was producing illustrations for magazines and other publications.
The decade that followed the end of the war, was perhaps the greatest period of artistic power, and while living on Sark in the Channel Islands from 1946 until 1949 produced a non-ending stream of illustrations to many of the classics. These included: Treasure Island, The Hunting of the Snark, The Ancient Mariner, Grimm's Household Tales, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. As well as these commissions he was also writing and illustrating his own books at the same time.
From 1950, an interest in the theatre developed with several plays being written some of which were staged, but mostly not. It is only now that this less well-known area of his eclecticism is gaining audiences, in staged productions.
His painting and drawings can be seen at many institutions across Britain, including the National Portrait Gallery, the British Library, Imperial War Museum, Manchester City Art Gallery, the Wordsworth Trust (Dove Cottage) Cumbria, the Guernsey Museum and Art Gallery, and several others.
Mervyn Peake died near Oxford after a long illness in November 1968 and is buried in the graveyard of the 11th century St Mary the Virgin church at Burpham, near Arundel in Sussex.
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