First sketches for Liverpool Cathedral

Drawing
1902 (made)
First sketches for Liverpool Cathedral thumbnail 1
First sketches for Liverpool Cathedral thumbnail 2
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F
Artist/Maker

This is a drawing from 1902 by the British architect William Richard Lethaby, made soon after the announcement of an architectural competition for Liverpool Cathedral. The drawing reveals an intensely creative moment at the very beginning of the design process. As if fearful of losing his inspiration, Lethaby has grabbed the nearest sheet of paper - which happens to be a used envelope - and covered it, front and back, with designs for the cathedral. The ‘back of the envelope’ sketch is a term often used to describe the designer’s first ideas, and this drawing shows exactly where the expression originates. Such drawings are greatly valued because they show the creative vision in its purest form, before the design becomes compromised by budgets, clients and manufacturing methods. Indeed, Lethaby’s final designs for the cathedral incorporate the same Byzantine features and reinforced-concrete structure suggested in these first sketches. Lethaby failed to win the competition.

Lethaby was a founder of the London County Council Central School of Arts and Crafts, and professor of design at the Royal College of Art, London. He was also an influential writer on architectural subjects.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Pen and red ink and pencil on paper
Brief Description
Design drawing for Liverpool Cathedral by William Richard Lethaby, 1902
Physical Description
Drawings of a cathedral on two sides of a sheet of stationery printed for the New Church, Brockhampton. The sheet has been folded and used as an envelope and is addressed to W. R. Lethaby. It bears a one penny stamp and is franked. The drawings on the front of the sheet include a pen and ink plan; a pencil sketch of the exterior(?); a pen and ink sketch of the vaulting; a pen and ink section through the nave and aisle; a pen and ink elevation of the exterior; a pen and ink elevation of the bays, with the sculpture drawn in red ink. On the reverse there are two pencil sketches, a plan and an elevation (?).
Dimensions
  • Height: 41.3cm
  • Width: 26.4cm
Styles
Marks and Inscriptions
  • Will try/ come/ this is old ['old' underlined] (Front, top left corner; Handwriting; Pen and ink; Lethaby)
  • Altar/ Light (On the front, within the pen and ink plan; Handwriting; Pen and ink; Lethaby)
  • good/ Sculpt/ New/ Test/ Old Test (On the front, by the elevation of the bays; Handwriting; Red ink; Lethaby)
  • W. R. Lethaby Esq./ 111 Inverness Terrace/ Bayswater/ London/ W. (On the front, bottom right, upside down; Handwriting; Pen and ink)
  • MR 4 02 BROCKHAMPTON ROSS HEREFORDSHIRE (On the front, on top of the stamp; Stamping; Printing ink)
  • NEW CHURCH, BROCKHAMPTON Account of Expenses for week ending [and further printed column headings etc.] (On the reverse, along the top; Printed; Printing ink)
Subjects depicted
Place Depicted
Summary
This is a drawing from 1902 by the British architect William Richard Lethaby, made soon after the announcement of an architectural competition for Liverpool Cathedral. The drawing reveals an intensely creative moment at the very beginning of the design process. As if fearful of losing his inspiration, Lethaby has grabbed the nearest sheet of paper - which happens to be a used envelope - and covered it, front and back, with designs for the cathedral. The ‘back of the envelope’ sketch is a term often used to describe the designer’s first ideas, and this drawing shows exactly where the expression originates. Such drawings are greatly valued because they show the creative vision in its purest form, before the design becomes compromised by budgets, clients and manufacturing methods. Indeed, Lethaby’s final designs for the cathedral incorporate the same Byzantine features and reinforced-concrete structure suggested in these first sketches. Lethaby failed to win the competition.



Lethaby was a founder of the London County Council Central School of Arts and Crafts, and professor of design at the Royal College of Art, London. He was also an influential writer on architectural subjects.
Collection
Accession Number
E.3196-1991

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record createdJanuary 16, 2004
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