Cook and the marvels of Berte
A timely publication of Brian Cook's wonderful, exuberant dust-jackets for Batsford's British town and countryside books from the Thirties and Forties. The only other book about his work was published by Batsford in 1987 (The Britain of Brian Cook) and I thought it had a serious editorial flaw in showing so much of his work in mono. The 108 illustrations in the book only had forty-eight in colour, though, admittedly, several of the black and whites were of Cook's lovely pen and ink illustrations. The book is well out of print and expensive but this latest book is so much better because it is all in color.
One feature in the 1987 book really should have been used in this new title: an explanation of the Jean Berte printing process. This gave the Batsford covers their unique look. The process used rubber plates and five waterproof inks, the three primary colours, grey and black as a fifth working to tighten up the look of the designs and for the type. It was the overprinting of these flat colours that created the rich, vibrant designs. Perhaps more importantly to the look of the covers was the fact that the rubber plates were cut by hand which meant that the design had to be fairly easy to create. Fine lines were only possible in black.
It still needed the creativity of Brian Cook to decide what colours to use for each cover. I was loved his use of solid mauve for hills and trees and the way the really bright yellow almost jumped off some covers. These books must really have stood out in bookshops back then.
The book is a wonderful page-turner and every page sparkles with remarkable cover artwork. Almost the perfect book but not quite (but still five stars) because someone decided it would be a bright idea to enlarge sections of the pictures and place these on the opposite page facing the original. Twelve pages have been wasted on these unnecessary enlargements and that means we've missed out on a possible twelve additional covers. Incidentally the cover picture is well chosen because it sums up, in an imaginery way, the perfect British countryside with a little bit of coastline added, too.
'Landscapes of Britain' is a beautiful celebration of an artist and designer who created some stunning book jackets of the British countryside more than five decades ago but they still look fresh and exciting today. The book is so much better than the 1987 edition.
Top, the 1987 book with more pages (144) but unfortunately well over half of them had Cook's work in mono. The vibrant colors just don't work in black and white.
These illustrations just don't have the same impact when in mono. Right: from the 1987 Britain of Brian Cook title.
What a difference some color makes. The same images in mono (left) in the 'Britain of Brian Cook' title.
Right: the classic Batsford cover image.
Fine lines, like the rigging on these ships, could only be printed in black because the rubber plates were cut by hand and it would be impossible to register the colors over each other.
The back pages have a listing of all Cook's Batsford covers.
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