Dorothea Braby (1909 – 1987) was a British artist educated in ‘London, Florence and Paris’ receiving tuition from the influential wood-engravers John Farleigh and Noel Tooke at the Central School of Art and Design (Chambers in England and Woolfitt, 1988). Braby produced many highly skilled wood engravings, and she sought to promote that art form in her book, The Way of Wood Engraving (1953). Her practice benefited from inventiveness and a command of realistic and semi-abstract registers. However, as stated by David Chambers (in England and Woolfitt, 1988) she is ‘best remembered’ for her elegant and dramatic book illustrations.
The six colour engravings below were produced for Christopher Sanford at the Golden Cockerel Press (1920 – 1961) for an edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (1952) translated by the Welsh scholar Gwyn Jones (1907 – 1999) which includes an introductory essay by Jones. A complete copy of the text in its original form is held at University of Arts London in the special collections area of the library at the London College of Communication. These images were reproduced from Braby’s own pre-prints (whereby she was approving colour quality) with the kind permission of the Braby estate.
The colour scheme of Braby's Gawain works are praised in Lupack and Lupack (2008) drawing on Muriel Whitaker (1995) they describe her choices as symbolic of the poem's underlying tensions ‘warmth and coldness, natural and supernatural, courtliness and barbarity, sensuous castle life and rigorous forest hunts’ (6). The colour compliments fine detail: patterned clothing, charming digressions (dogs and servants), and the sympathetically rendered expressions of Gawain who in Braby's handling appears contemplative and burdened. Braby's Green Knight, depicted as a bright green man, while large in stature and possessing the fatal axe, symbols of his otherness and monstrosity, is defined by his elegance and poise: his garments are well fitted courtly and flowing, his expression is impassive and his waist is neatly tapered in, as described in the poem 'his stomach and waist were slender and sleek' (Armitage, 2007:11). As I discus on this site, in the section 'Film/TV', the director of The Green Knight (2021) David Lowery explained to me that he had considered changing the Green Knight's 'countenance' (Lowery in correspondence with the author, 2021) to communicate something of the feminine authority implied by Morgan le Fay in the poem, but opted instead for something he saw as closer to the poem's description. I would suggest that Braby's Green Knight is representative of the countenance Lowery considered, a romantic rendering that draws out the 'handsome' qualities 'features...finely formed' (Armitage, 2007:11). Furthermore, that this way of rendering the Green Knight might have added to, rather than detracted from, the horror of his beheading as his human aspect is present.
Armitage, S. (2007) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Faber and Faber.
Braby, D. (1953) The Way Of Wood Engraving. London The Studio Publications.
England, J. and Woolfitt, P. (1988) Dorothea Braby 1909-1987, MEMORIAL EXHIBITION in aid of FRIENDS OF THE ROYAL FREE HOSPITAL [leaflet obtained from artists estate] October 15th 2020.
Jones, G. (1952) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Golden Cockerel Press.
Lupack, B. and Lupack, A. (2008) Illustrating Camelot. Cambridge, D.S. Brewer.
Whitaker, M. (1995) The Legends of King Arthur in Art. D.S. Brewer.