Robert Gibbings (1889–1958)

Robert John Gibbings, engraver, illustrator, author, and sculptor was born in Cork. After studying medicine for five years at University College Cork — during the last two years of which he also registered for art studies — Gibbings travelled to London in 1911 and undertook studies at the Slade School of Fine Art and the Central School of Arts and Crafts. While in London he decided to concentrate on wood engraving.

While a volunteer in the Royal Munster Fusiliers during World War I he was wounded at Gallipoli. In 1917 he was stationed at Bear Island, Co. Cork, and retired with rank of captain in the following year as a military invalid. During his military career he had continued to sketch and draw. In 1919 he returned to London where he produced his own book, Twelve wood engravings, in 1921, and two years later was given his first commission to produce book engravings, with Samuel Butler’s Erewhon. His purchase of the Golden Cockerel Press in Berkshire in 1924 encouraged him to illustrate his own writings, including accounts of his travels to Tahiti, to the West Indies, and to the Red Sea where he made sketches of underwater life. He illustrated 19 of the 72 books produced by that publishing house while he was director there. He employed Eric Gill, John Nash, and other engravers for other works published by the Golden Cockerel. He also became director of the Penguin Illustrated Classics.

Gibbings lectured in book-production and engraving at Reading School of Art. In 1940 he published his most popular book, Sweet Thames run softly, one of his eight river-based books which included Lovely is the Lee in 1945, Coming down the Seine in 1953, and another book about the Thames, his final book, Till I end my song in 1957. After another return to Ireland he published Sweet Cork of thee in 1951. After moving between Cork, Dublin, and London he retired to Berkshire. Gibbings enjoyed widespread popularity and is credited with promoting the art of wood engraving in the twentieth century more than any other person.

In Cork City Libraries, the Local Studies Department has a file of 27 woodcut prints signed/initialled by the artist. Digital images of these woodcuts can be seen below.



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