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Robert Gibbings

1889 - 1958

Old London Bridge,
London Bridge To-day,
Chelsea Bridge and Power Station,
The New Southwark Bridge. by Robert Gibbings

Old London Bridge, London Bridge To-day, Chelsea Bridge and Power Station, The New Southwark Bridge.   1921

  Original wood engravings.
Each signed in pencil.
Ref: Empson & Balston 22, 23, 24, and 25.
S (average) 195 x 255 mm; I (average) 135 x 200 mm.
The complete set of four signed proof wood engravings.

Excellent signed proof impressions. Only a very few signed proofs of these early works by Robert Gibbings are thought to exist. All are particularly good printings with strong, evenly printed areas of black ink.

These works are the four London bridge scenes which were engraved by Robert Gibbings as a commission for the wine merchant Findlater, Mackie, Todd & Co. Ltd. for their twenty page brochure entitled Findlater’s Corner. Impressions printed in the brochure were unsigned and were accompanied by printed text. Findlater’s Corner was the official name of this firm of wine merchants’ premises facing London Bridge.

These four wood engravings are some of Robert Gibbings’ earliest commercial works. Rather than simple silhouettes, these striking images employ the device of the ‘vanishing line’ which many claim to have been invented by Robert Gibbings, prior to its use by Edward Wadsworth. The ‘vanishing line’ was a technique whereby Gibbings would omit with the dividing line between surfaces in bright white light or between darkened objects in shadow, leaving only the sharp delineating lines between expansive brightly lit areas and large masses of darkness contrasted against them. All further detail within each of those areas was then left to the viewer’s imagination, any further differentiating lines having ‘vanished’. This technique of abstraction was paralleled by Edward Wadsworth but it is beyond question that its discovery and development by each artist was entirely independent of the other. It was through his discovery of the ‘vanishing line’ as a wood engraver that Gibbings achieved his initial success and it is this device which has established his lasting fame.

Gibbings produced only a few ‘vanishing line’ wood engravings of this nature, moving towards a more conventional approach by the mid-1920's when book illustration became his principal aim. The early ‘vanishing line’ prints are the most sought-after of all of his works and signed proof impressions of them are now scarce.

In this set of four wood engravings the ‘vanishing line’ device is most apparent in The New Southwark Bridge (in which Southwark Cathedral merges with the white background clouds) and in Chelsea Bridge and Power Station (in which the buildings become a solid mass of black).

All four wood engravings are printed on firm cream wove F J Head & Co. paper, with full margins and deckle edges. All are in excellent condition.