Readers of this blog will already be familiar with my biography of the artist Joseph Pike and my original post about his 1913 set of twelve postcards showing the monastic buildings and other scenes on Caldey Island. He did those drawings while staying on the island with Bede Camm, who had assisted the Anglican monks in their mass reception into the Catholic Church in March of that year. For various reasons, not least of which were the effects of World War One and the withdrawal of support from High Anglican donors, the community struggled in the years after the ‘Caldey Conversions’. Although Aelred Carlyle was blessed as Abbot of Caldey in 1914, he resigned in 1922 and was replaced by Dom Wilfrid Upson as Prior. I have written elsewhere – in A Monk and His Movies – about Dom Wilfrid’s time in Hollywood. Eventually the monks left Caldey in December 1928 and moved to Prinknash in the Cotswolds. Caldey then passed from the Benedictines to the Cistercian Order, as it became the home of Cistercian monks from Scourmont Abbey in Belgium. This monastery is home to the Chimay brewery, where the monks produce three ales: Chimay Rouge, Chimay Bleue, and Chimay Blanche. While staying in Brittany last summer I was able to pick up a few bottles of Chimay ale in the local supermarket, but a new venue has opened up in Exeter – the South Street Standard – that serves Chimay on draught, which I would definitely recommend. Anyway, I digress – the point of this post was that I recently picked up the postcard above, which is obviously been printed for French-speakers interested in the abbey, and reveals that the Trappist monks of Caldey re-used Joseph Pike’s postcards after 1929. They have printed additional French text in the border space at the bottom and appear to have given the card a deeper sepia tone than the original. I wonder if the artist continued to receive payment for the reproduction of his artwork on the same terms as he had arranged with the Benedictines?
My latest book, Joseph Pike: The Happy Catholic Artist (Kibworth: Matador, 2018) is a detailed biography of a master of the art of pencil drawing. Joseph Pike (1883-1956) produced evocative sketches and illustrations that were commissioned by authors, architects and publishers, reproduced in books and on postcards, sold as prints and exhibited on the walls of the Royal Academy.
It was due to his postcards of Caldey Island – drawn in 1913 – that I became interested in Joseph Pike, and you can read all about this on my original blogpost here. After reading this, one of the artist’s grandsons contacted me, and we began discussing the idea of my writing a short memoir about the artist. What began as a fairly modest project ended up being rather larger than originally intended, but the Joseph Pike’s friendship and collaboration with Benedictine monk Bede Camm meant that I was able to incorporate some of my PhD research on visual culture and monastic life. With access to family papers and photographs, augmented with my own collection of Joseph Pike artwork and knowledge of the Catholic literary revival, there was ample material for a detailed and illuminating biography.
Further research in various archives uncovered more little-known details and rare illustrations, and I was able to show how developments in the publishing world and printing technology impacted upon his work, as well as exploring the importance of the Catholic faith side in his personal and professional life – his acquaintance with Bede Camm and other leading figures in Catholic cultural life, such as Ronald Knox, played a key role in shaping his career as an illustrator.
Joseph Pike: The Happy Catholic Artist (Kibworth: Matador, 2018) – ISBN 9781788037778 – is available from various outlets, including direct from the publisher here
An e-book is also available, ISBN 9781788034746
I would love to hear comments and feedback from anyone who has read the book or wishes to share their thoughts on Joseph Pike and his art.
Pike’s interest in church interiors is evident from these pictures, as is his care in rendering precise details of architecture and metalwork. His great break came when he was asked by the Benedictine historian Bede Camm O.S.B. to provide illustrations for Forgotten Shrines (London: Macdonald & Evans, 1910). In his Preface, Father Bede wrote: ‘I feel a very special debt of gratitude to my artist, Mr Joseph Pike, for the very beautiful drawings with which he has illustrated and adorned the text. Mr Pike is still a young man, and there can be no doubt as to his great talent.’
Caldey Island was at this time home to a community of Anglican monks under the leadership of Aelred Carlyle. I have written about this community elsewhere – there are references below under the Monk and His Movies blog post, and it is interesting to compare Peter Anson’s line drawings with Joseph Pike’s more nuanced depictions of textures and shading.
Carlyle’s attempt to introduce Benedictine monastic life to the Church of England placed him and his community on a collision course with the Anglican authorities, particularly with regard to liturgical rites and ecclesiastical obedience. Matters eventually came to a head in 1913, resulting in almost the entire community being received into the Catholic Church. This took place 101 years ago today – 5th March 1913, the day before Joseph Pike’s thirtieth birthday.
Bede Camm had followed events on Caldey for some years, defending the community in a letter to the Catholic Times in 1905. He landed on the island on 28 February and said Mass in the monastery chapel – probably the first time this had been done since the Reformation. After the conversion, he became novice master to the monks. It was presumably through his involvement with the Caldey community that Joseph Pike visited the island to carry out these drawings.