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Artist Picture

1911 – 1968

Mervyn Peake was a man of many talents; a novelist, poet, playwright, painter and illustrator, and famously a children's writer. Peake's reputation rests largely on his three novels, Titus Groan (1946), Gormenghast (1950), and Titus Alone (1959), which became widely known after they were published as Penguin Modern Classics in 1968.

Born in China to English missionary parents, his family moved to England when he was 12, where he attended Eltham College in Kent, Croydon School of Art, and from 1929 to 1933, the Royal Academy Schools.

In the 1930s he spent three years at the artist colony on the Channel Island of Sark, before taking a teaching role at Westminster School of Art. In the pre-war years Peake built a reputation as a noted illustrator of classic children's books including Treasure Island and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

During World War II Peake served in the army and in time became a War Artist. In 1943 he was commissioned by the British Ministry of Information to paint the glassblowers at a Birmingham factory. It was while he was in the army that he began work on Titus Groan.

In 1945, as a war artist, Peake was one of the first civilians to enter the German concentration camp at Belsen. He was intensely affected by the event and was left with deep impressions of the victims of the war. Startling and disturbing paintings and poems resulted from that traumatic experience.

After the war Peake continued to work on his art, but also penned Gormenghast, which was awarded the Royal Society of Literature prize. During the 1950s most of Peake's energy went into playwriting, but only one of his plays ‘The Wit to Woo' briefly reached the London stage in 1957.

For the last 12 years of his life Peake experienced poor health; suffering from Parkinson's disease together with Encephalitis Lethargica, or ‘sleeping sickness', before he passed away at the age of 57.