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The Elephant Act

  • Object:

    Print

  • Place of origin:

    London (printed)

  • Date:

    1947 (printed)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Reeve, Russell , born 1895 - died 1970 (artist)
    Baynard Press (printer)
    School Prints Ltd. (commissioned by)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Colour lithograph

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Frances Marks

  • Museum number:

    E.250-2006

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level C, case MB2G, shelf DR112, box MP343

Although Russell Reeve lived in London, he was from East Anglia and it was there that he drew the inspiration for animals, people and landscapes in his art.

Set up in 1945 by Brenda Rawnsley, the School Prints scheme commissioned well-known artists to create lithographs, which would then be printed in large numbers and sold cheaply to schools for display in classrooms; the aim was to give 'school children an understanding of contemporary art'. Each lithograph had a drawn frame so that the print could be pinned to the wall. In the spirit of post-war optimism, artists responded enthusiastically. The scheme was a unique attempt at giving children access to original works of art in a period of austerity but ended in 1949 because of financial problems. Many of the prints depict a familiar world of everyday rural or urban life, some presenting a version of the pastoral idyll and others scenes of entertainment or leisure.

Physical description

Colour lithograph in predominantly pinks and greys showing the inside of a circus tent. The sides of the gangway are pink with green uprights and the underside of the seating area, seen through a doorway, shows as blue. In the background and elephant is going through his act with two keepers dressed in green. The foreground shows a walkway with a number of people in costume watching the act. These are probably the next acts waiting for the elephant to finish. One man has a red dressing gown with a yellow elephant depicted on the back and wears a pointed hat; another has red and green soldier costume and a rounded fur hat and is carrying a drum; another 'soldier' has yellow and blue costume and flat-topped fur hat; a man in green is rolling a larger drum-shaped stand of the kind an elephant might balance on during an act. In a doorway is a man in riding dress minding a horse and next to him a woman in blue and white dress with red ribbon belt tied in a bow. The border is grey and has a pattern of spots and wavy lines terminating in curls at the corners.

Place of Origin

London (printed)

Date

1947 (printed)

Artist/maker

Reeve, Russell , born 1895 - died 1970 (artist)
Baynard Press (printer)
School Prints Ltd. (commissioned by)

Materials and Techniques

Colour lithograph

Marks and inscriptions

Printed in England at The Baynard Press for School Prints Ltd, London.
Bottom right margin

Russell Reeve
Bottom right of image, artist signature

The Elephant Act by Russell Reeve. S.P.17
Bottom left margin

Dimensions

Height: 497 mm, Width: 760 mm

Object history note

Gift of Frances Marks, from her late father's collection

Historical context note

School Prints series was published in the 1940s. The idea behind the series was to commission established artists to create lithographs which could be editioned in very large numbers and sold cheaply to schools, for display in corridors, classrooms and assembly halls. The pupils would enjoy direct contact with new works of art. The entrepreneur, Mrs Brenda Rawnsley, wrote: 'We are producing a series of auto-lithographs, four for each term, for use in schools, as a means of giving school children an understanding of contemporary art.'

In the spirit of post-war optimism, the artists responded enthusiastically, and submitted sketches to the selection committee, chaired by Herbert Read, which included influential R.R. Tomlinson, London County Council Senior Inspector of Art. Many of the prints depict a familiar world of everyday rural or urban life, some presenting a version of the pastoral idyll (John Nash 'Harvesting') and others scenes of festivity (Barbara Jones 'Fairground'), entertainment (L.S. Lowry 'Punch and Judy') or leisure (John Tunnard's surrealist 'Holiday'). Each lithograph had a drawn frame around the image so that the print could be pinned to the wall.

Descriptive line

Colour lithograph, 'The Elephant Act', Russell Reeve, School Prints series; London, 1947

Materials

Ink; Paper

Techniques

Lithography

Subjects depicted

Circus; Men; Horse; Big top; Elephant; Costume; Woman; Stand; Snare drum

Categories

Prints

Production Type

Limited edition

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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