Illustrated companion

Edward Calvert was born and brought up in Devon and at the age of fifteen joined the Navy. serving for six years until he left in 1820 and decided to become an artist. He moved to London in 1824 and soon met Samuel Palmer and the Ancients, the group of young artists around the aged William Blake. From 1826-32 Calvert visited Shoreham regularly and was the closest of the Ancients to Palmer.

Like Palmer, Calvert was inspired by Blake's Virgil illustrations, and during those years produced a series of wood-cuts, mostly very small. He also made some engravings on copper, one of which is 'The Bride' [Tate Gallery A00157]. It is inscribed 'O God! Thy bride seeketh thee. A stray lamb is led to thy folds.' But it already displays a lush and pagan eroticism that was eventually to overwhelm Calvert's Christian faith. Particularly telling in this evocation of a landscape flowing with natural abundance are the huge bunches of grapes on the vine growing up the tree in the centre. One of them, on the right of the tree-trunk, is so ripe that it is oozing great drops of juice.

Calvert's eroticism found its most intense expression in his tiny, extraordinary, wood engraving 'The Chamber Idyll' [Tate Gallery A00161], while the theme of natural fertility also appears in another wood engraving, 'The Ploughman'.

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.71