A scribble of illustrators and artists have set theirs hands to redesigning the dust jackets of the first editions of some beloved books for a Sotheby’s sale, First Editions Re-covered, on December 11, to benefit House of Illustration, the world’s only public gallery dedicated to illustration and graphic arts.
Comprising 33 lots, the sale encompasses works by Quentin Blake, Maggi Hambling, Peter Blake, Chris Riddell, Richard Wentworth, Axel Scheffler, Audrey Niffenegger, Neil Gaiman, George Shaw, Paula Rego and Shaun Tan. It also includes the only piece of original artwork created by Quentin Blake for Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots that has ever come up for sale – a cat in a pink dressing gown holding a bunch of flowers. It is estimated at £3,000-£5,000. There is also a cover by Gerald Scarfe with two new illustrations for The Making of Pink Floyd, The Wall (£3,000-£5,000); and even a contribution from Doctor Who, aka Peter Capaldi, who has designed a cover for Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis (£1,500-£2,000).
“Although from childhood we are discouraged from judging a book by its cover, these brilliantly reimagined dust jackets are most definitely an exception to the rule,” says Philip Errington, specialist in books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s. “Designed by leading contemporary artists and illustrators, they present a unique insight into well-known and beloved texts – which coupled with the first edition, produces a highly collectable partnership.”
The books each have a special resonance with their respective illustrator. Fashion artist David Downton, for example, opted to illustrate a first edition of Dr No with a portrait of Sean Connery’s co-star in the film of the book and one of the most famous Bond girls of them all. “The truth is I picked Dr No not for the book but for a chance to draw Ursula Andress, my idol since I was a teenager,” he says. Capaldi’s extremely striking and menacing cover for The Metamorphosis came about because “I find the story so powerful, the imagery unforgettable, and the sadness as its heart completely human. It is rightfully considered one of the greatest stories of the 20th century.”
Elsewhere Peter Blake has produced a rather melancholic Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (£2,000-£3,000), with a brunette Alice sporting a hairband against a green background. There is a suitably somber cover for To Kill a Mockingbird by George Butler (£1,000-£1,500) featuring a black and white neighbourhood scene: “To Kill A Mockingbird has been close enough to reality for me to want to draw it,” he says. “Both at the time it was written and now, it is still relevant. Still a great lesson. I’ve always preferred books with more pictures than words, but this is an exception.”