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Roger W. Moss Collection of Manuscript, Original Art and Printed Material by and about Richard Shirley Smith

Call Number: MSS 17
Scope and Contents

The collection comprises manuscripts, original art and printed material by and about Richard Shirley Smith, collected by Roger W. Moss. A description of the collection is provided in the forward to Moss's checklist, Richard Shirley Smith: illustrated books, engravings and bookplates: annotated checklist, Roger W. Moss Collection (Marlborough, England : Libanus Press, 2010):

This checklist of Richard Shirley Smith's illustrated books, engravings and bookplates is intended to compliment lain Bain's Wood Engravings of Richard Shirley Smith (Cambridge, 1994), Shirley Smith's Paintings & Collages (London, 2002), and Brian North Lee's Bookplates by Richard Shirley Smith (Fleece Press, 2005). It also documents my own collection begun after I commissioned Shirley Smith to produce a millennium year ex libris for books acquired by an endowment in my name at The Athenaeum of Philadelphia. Since I could never hope to own more than a few of his paintings and none of his trompe l'oeil murals--many of which are in privately-owned country houses--I focused on the books he has illustrated over the past half century. Eventually I added original strikes of virtually all the engravings and bookplates as well, including items unrecorded by Iain Bain and Brian North Lee. From the beginning the collection was destined for an appropriate institution in the United States where the work of this versatile artist is not as well known as it should be. In England collections of Shirley Smith's engravings already exist at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford and also in London at the British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum. The Bodleian Library have asked to receive his main archive.

Richard Shirley Smith was born in London (1935) and educated at Harrow and the Slade School of Fine Art. After a year and a half of further study in Rome, he returned to England in 1962 to support his young family as a freelance graphic designer for commercial publishers. Richard was not encouraging when I began to collect these early books, preferring that I concentrate on the finely printed limited editions of his mature work. But these early commissions paid the bills and gave him practical experience in book design and publishing. Most were for dust jackets, but occasionally he was asked to illustrate an entire book. He produced fifty drawings for Wilfrid Blunt's Of Flowers & A Village (Hamish Hamilton, 1963), and for each of the nine biographies of musicians by Percy M. Young published by Ernest Benn he provided at least a dozen drawings that ranged from portraits to landscapes and architecture. Fortunately for his later career, some publishers recognized the exceptional quality of his wood engravings, which were far more tedious and time consuming to produce than the mono-types and drawings typically commissioned. Shirley Smith's engraved portrait of Sir Thomas More set against a detailed London background, for example, was commissioned by Burns & Oates and used for several of Ernest Edwin Reynolds's books published in both England and the United States.

It was the art directors at Faber and Faber who particularly favoured Shirley Smith's wood engravings. Ten of these appeared in their edition of Douglas Bartrum's The Gourmet's Garden (1964) and another ten in Elizabeth Clarke's The Darkening Green (1964). The discipline of working against a publisher's deadline for a set of ten original engravings would be valuable experience in the future.

Often a catalogue raisonné--or even a simple, chronological checklist such as this one--illuminates important turning points in an artist's career. For Richard Shirley Smith, 1967 stands out. In that year, seventeen of his wood engravings dating from his studies in Rome were featured by The Golden Head Press in a slim volume of Joyce Finzi's poetry; The Folio Society published thirty of his wood engravings commissioned for their limited edition of Sir Roger de Coverly; and in New York, Macmillan released Memoirs of a London Doll illustrated with fifteen commissioned wood engravings.

The 1967 projects prompted the typographical advisor and historian John Dreyfus (1918-2002), who was an agent for the Limited Editions Club in the United States, to suggest Shirley Smith as the illustrator for Stephen Spender's selection of Shelley's poems which was published in 1971. For this commission he executed forty-six wood engravings. Of this project Richard wrote: 'I think ... this was my "masterpiece" as regards engraving' and John Dreyfus would later remark, Shirley Smith 'was able to render intricate details of architecture, landscape, seascape, flora, fauna and the human face--all with equal mastery and with astonishing control of perspective and the lighting of the different planes.' Laurence Whistler, brother of Rex Whistler, and an artist who recognized genius when he encountered it, wrote 'here is an artist whose scope is not narrow. With equal skill he handles the charming simplicities of doll's house furniture, portraits, houses, food, insects, animals, flowers--and scenes of imagination. In the end it is the last-named that catch and hold the attention. He seems to have discovered his true gift while interpreting, or simply responding to, poetry.'

Shirley Smith had left behind his journeyman work as an engraver and illustrator for commercial publishers. Henceforth he would be in demand by The Folio Society, Oxford University Press, and private press publishers such as Libanus, Rocket, Fleece, and Gruffyground which featured his engravings, line drawings, and paintings in finely bound, limited and signed editions, including such publications as Hugh Shankland's Messer Pietro Mio (1985). Concurrently, several well publicized exhibitions such as his fiftieth birthday retrospective at the Ashmolean Museum and the Royal Institute of British Architects, and several books and articles that are listed in the first section of this checklist have helped to create a steady demand for his easel paintings, murals and fine and limited edition book illustrations.

Since that modest commission to design my book plate, Richard Shirley Smith and I have developed a cordial trans-Atlantic friendship that has given me considerable pleasure. Without his cooperation and encouragement neither the collection nor this publication would have been possible. Roger W. Moss, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The collection is the physical property of the Yale Center for British Art. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Roger W. Moss, 2011


The collection is arranged into six series: I. Books and Articles on Richard Shirley Smith; II. Publications Designed or Illustrated by Richard Shirley Smith; III. Engraved and Drawn Bookplates by Richard Shirley Smith; IV. Engravings by Richard Shirley Smith; V. Ephemera; VI. Correspondence. Arrangement follows, to the extent possible, that of the checklist by Roger W. Moss.

15 Linear Feet
Language of Materials