The Journal | #FortnumsChristmas


Edward Bawden

~ The Man Who Let the Cats Out of the Bag ~

EDWARD BAWDEN


For many, Fortnum & Mason is all about the food. And rightly so. But back in the 1920s, we added another string to our elegant bow. It was then, among the cold, monotony of post-war Britain, that a glorious burst of colour exploded through the grey gloom.

It was in the form of the Fortnum’s Commentaries. Lavishly illustrated, beautifully written booklets, created by our legendary Managing Director Colonel Charles Wyld, along with Hugh Stuart Menzies, whose advertising agency held the Fortnum’s account.

At heart, they were simply direct mail catalogues, designed to boost sales. But they were created in such style, with such wit and verve, both visual and written, that they transcend their commercial roots. Every preconceived idea of a trade catalogue was disregarded - space was sacrificed for pure fun on almost every page.

Edward Bawden
Edward Bawden
Imperial
Many great artists contributed to the Commentaries, including the wonderful Rex Whistler, but it was Edward Bawden who brought the spark. Commissioned by Menzies, Bawden’s first foray into Fortnum’s was for the shoe department. In the words of the great typographer and novelist Robert Harling, “Bawden’s drawings were exactly attuned to Menzies’ almost carefree yet cunningly persuasive prose.”

The relationship continued into the late 1930s, when the war put a swift end to extravagant advertising. But with the end of rationing in 1955, our relationship with Bawden resumed. Colonel Wyld had sadly passed, Hugh Stuart Menzies would soon follow, and Fortnum’s had been bought by Garfield Weston, for whom the store became a hobby, and then a passion. The advertising firm was now Colman Prentice and Varley, managed by Jack Beddington, a friend of Bawden’s. Gone was the witty prose – Beddington introduced Bawden to the crisp, clean lettering of Ruth Gill. Their collaboration was dynamic and the results are astounding, producing some of the finest work in our archive.
Edward Bawden

As Mary Gowing wrote, “You have only to look at the impeccable yet lively and varied typography of the Fortnum & Mason catalogues (page after flawless page of it) to realise the demands that must have been made on the compositor. The colour, too, with its exciting juxtapositions of cool pinks and luminous scarlet, of blue greens, and green blues, must have been equally demanding of the printer.”

The first Christmas catalogue Bawden created for Fortnum's was in 1955. Our 1958 catalogue is an extended pun on the word 'cat', and is full of witty and playful drawings. Cats were a passion of his, as they strut, dance, and grin their way through these remarkable pages.

Part of his enduring appeal is his combination of modernism and tradition. He always believed that a good piece of design was as valuable as a painting (he was endearingly self-effacing and never took anything TOO seriously), and his work took in everything from iconic London Transport posters in the 30s, to film posters, illustrations for books, as well as book jackets, linocuts, war time watercolours, even wallpaper. He’s one of those artists you will have come across endlessly, without actually knowing it was him.
Edward Bawden
Edward Bawden
Edward Bawden

Edward Bawden’s work continues to inspire us today, particularly that 1958 catalogue… some 61 years later our 2018 Christmas brochure features a rather playful collection of cats, not forgetting our brand new cookbook - Christmas & Other Winter Feasts, written by Tom Parker Bowles, it is packed full of delicious recipes and beautiful illustrations from our Bawden archive.

His association with Fortnum’s was as fruitful as it is eternal. His illustrations have the same immediate, bold appeal now as they did then. He learnt his trade at the store, and perfected it too. A match made in design heaven. Because at Fortnum & Mason, it’s never JUST about the food...