The catalogue begins with quite an extensive biography of Tunnicliffe; he was an unpretentious, unassuming man, who began life working on his father’s Cheshire farm before going off to study art at the Macclesfield School of Art and then the Royal College of Art in London. The introductory section is interesting as it allows us to see a few of Tunnicliffe’s watercolours and oil portraits which are all beautifully executed; as the book focuses on his engravings and etchings it would be tempting to think that that was ‘all’ he did—the sheer quantity of work is amazing, but the quality and detail of this work is astonishing.
The bulk of the book consists of wood engravings and copper etchings, which were mostly produced commercially. Tunnicliffe started to work professionally in the late 1920s just when the demand for etchings was on the decline and Tunnicliffe’s pastoral subject matter probably seemed quite old-fashioned. These early etchings are mostly about farm life; bulls and cows, sheep-shearing, butchering, mucking-out stables etc. Tunnicliffe concentrated just as much on the mucky side of farm life as the pleasant—it’s very realistic. Although his illustrations of animals dominate the book he is just as adept with humans; pictures of a market town or a crowded horse sale are just as expertly executed as the pictures of pigs foraging or bulls fighting.
In 1932 Tunnicliffe’s wife, Winifred, passed him a copy of Henry Williamson’s Tarka the Otter (1927), with the suggestion that it would be an excellent book for Charles to illustrate. He promptly sent some example illustrations to the publisher, who were a bit dismissive at first, but once Williamson had seen them and endorsed them Tunnicliffe was employed to supply twenty-four wood engravings to illustrate the book. As some of the scenes in the book involve hunting (I’d never heard of otter-hunting before), Tunnicliffe was invited to attend a hunt with Williamson. Williamson was so impressed with Tunnicliffe’s work that he was asked to illustrate four more of his books: The Old Stag and Other Hunting Stories) (1933, orig. pub. 1926); The Star-born (1933), which sounds like such an unusual book described as ‘an allegorical commentary on humanity in the wake of the First World War’; The Lone Swallows and Other Essays of Boyhood and Youth (1933, orig. pub. 1922); and The Peregrine’s Saga and Other Wild Tales (1934, orig. pub. 1923). Tunnicliffe also illustrated Williamson’s Salar-the-Salmon (1935) but only two decorative pieces are included in this book. Tunnicliffe's illustrations of Williamson's works takes up much of the book (over 90 pages) and his illustrations for Mary Priestley's A Book of Birds et al. takes up much of the rest of the book. I was surprised that his work for H.E. Bates’s books, In the Heart of the Country (1942) and The Happy Countryman (1943) isn’t included or even mentioned in this book, which just shows how prolific an artist he was if they can safely be ignored.
I have included a few sample pictures of the contents of the book in the slideshow but it’s difficult to do justice to Tunnicliffe’s work with such photographs. But you can be certain that if you enjoy perfectly executed engravings and/or illustrations of nature then you will love this book.
As the slideshow doesn’t always display I’ve included the pictures as a thumbnail gallery below.