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Edward J. I. Ardizzone and the Omar Khayyam Club

November 9, 2021

Joe Howard has sent us a fascinating article about the artist Edward Ardizzone who had important links with the Omar Khayyam Club of London. Our thanks to Joe for sharing his reasearch with us.

Fig.1. Edward Ardizzone ca 1978

The membership of the Omar Khayyam of London (the Club) has included several noted artists and illustrators. One of the most prolific was Edward Jeffrey Irving Ardizzone CBE RA (1900-1979), who illustrated at least six menus for the Club’s regular dinners. Ardizzone (Fig.1.) was installed as Club President in 1968.

Generally regarded as a quintessentially English artist, Ardizzone was born in Tonkin, now Haiphong, in what is currently Vietnam. His mother was English while his father was a naturalized Frenchman of Italian descent. Ardizzone moved to England in 1905 where he attended school in Ipswich before being transferred to a boarding school in Dorset where he received encouragement from his art teacher. On leaving school he spent six months at a commercial college (typing, shorthand etc.) in Bath. This was followed by routine office jobs, firstly in Warminster then London. He became a naturalized British citizen in 1922.

While working in London Ardizzone received his only formal art training. For 6 years he attended evening classes taught by the inspiring Bernard Meninsky at the Westminster School of Art. The undemanding nature of his office tasks fortunately allowed Ardizzone to spend considerable time drawing while at work. In 1926 his father gave him £500 intending it to help him establish a more secure financial footing. Much to his father’s chagrin, Edward instead resigned from his office job and embarked on a month-long European art tour, returning to start a financially risky new career as author and freelance artist/illustrator.

Ardizzone often signed his work “DIZ”, though “EA” is also well known.

For his artwork DIZ used oils, watercolours, pencil and pen, and was an accomplished printmaker (lithography). He is best known, though, for his drawings and watercolours. According to Gabriel White1,a fellow student at Westminster School of Art, lifelong friend and brother-in-law, “While he was awake, he was almost always drawing, whatever else he might be doing…”

DIZ illustrated at least 180 books, for 26 of which he was both author and illustrator. He also drew 38 book jackets2. A notable feature of these is his incorporation of both title and author’s name in his own handwriting. An indication of just how prolific he was is his production of 153 pen drawings for his first book commission, In a Glass Darkly by J Sheridan Le Fanu (1929). His best-known book-illustration work, the Tim series of children’s books, commenced in 1936 and continued until 1972, with him as author and illustrator. In 1956 he was awarded the inaugural Kate Greenaway Medal for Tim All Alone. His illustrations for Titus in Trouble written by James Reeves, earned him a commended runner-up citation for the same award in 1959.

It came as a surprise to him while serving as a 2nd Lieutenant in an anti-aircraft battery on Clapham Common in 1940, when Sir Kenneth Clark appointed him an official War Artist. In this new capacity DIZ was posted to France, North Africa, Sicily, and Italy to paint watercolours of wartime scenes. In 1941 he published an account3 of his experiences during the Battle of France and the subsequent retreat of the British Expeditionary Force through France and Belgium. DIZ was also posted to post-war Germany to record scenes there. Many of his ca 400 watercolour paintings resulting from his war service are held in the Imperial War Museum: an excellent selection may be viewed on-line.

Fig.2. Menu for the Overtons St. James’s location: front and rear covers

DIZ produced illustrations for publications such as the Radio Times, Punch, Parade, Strand Magazine and Vogue. He also worked with organizations such as Guinness, Moss Bros., Shell and the Arts Council, providing illustrations for marketing and advertising purposes: though he did not regard this commercial work as one of his strengths. To this corpus must be added ephemera such as prints, posters, bookplates, Christmas cards, postcards, posters, leaflets, catalogues, calendars, invitations, programmes, brochures etc. A characteristic of his work is his representation of people in small-scale dramas with rotund bodies and receding hairlines, mostly living in a rather comfortable world (Fig.2.).

DIZ was appointed a CBE in 1971 and in 1975 he was elected as a Senior member of the Royal Academy of Arts.

In advance of his work on the Club menus, DIZ illustrated (pen) menus for the Double Crown Club annual dinners (held at Ketner’s) whose rules required the menus to be designed by a member. He also illustrated (lithograph) menu covers for the two Overtons restaurants and the Hatchets restaurant in London in the mid 1950’s. The design (Fig.2.) for the St. James’s restaurant remained in use until the restaurant closed in the 1990’s. The print was folded along the vertical centre-line to form the front and rear covers.

His illustrations for the OK Club menus are shown in Figs.3-8. They cover the period 1961 to 1975 and are excellent examples of his use of lines and cross-hatching to add depth and drama to his work. These illustrations are rather literal interpretations of the relevant quatrains. A few comments:

  • Fig.4. This is very unusual as he has signed it both as “DIZ” and “Edward Ardizzone”.
  • Fig.5. (a) The angel figure at the top of the picture is not immediately recognized by everyone (b) experts consulted by Sandra and Bill advise that the text being written by the finger is not genuine Farsi or Arabic (c) the text is being written left to right, which is incorrect and (d) the arrangement of the tables when combined with the context of the menu, implies that this is whimsical representation of a formal OK Club dinner. If so, I’m extremely surprised to see two participants clearly exchanging blows!
Fig.3. Kettner’s 23 Mar. 1961 and Fig.4. Kettner’s 28 Nov. 1963
Fig.5. Kettner’s 30 Mar. 1965 and Fig.6. Kettner’s 4 Nov. 1966
Fig.7. Kettner’s 23 Nov. 1972 (Ladies night) and Fig.8. Kettner’s 20 Nov. 1975

Examples of DIZ’s work can readily be found on the internet (google images, or for books etc.). His life and his work are comprehensively described in several books: some examples1-6 are listed below.

I would be delighted to learn of any additional illustrations Ardizzone produced for the Omar Khayyam Club of London.


  1. Edward Ardizzone, Gabriel White, Schocken Books, 1980
  2. Edward Ardizzone A Bibliographic Commentary, Brian Alderson, Private Libraries Association 2003
  3. Baggage to the Enemy, Edward Ardizzone, John Murray 1941
  4. Edward Ardizzone’s World The Etchings and Lithographs, Nicholas Ardizzone, Unicorn Press and Wolseley Fine Arts, 2000
  5. The Young Ardizzone An Autobiographical Fragment, Edward Ardizzone, The MacMillan Company, 1970
  6. Edward Ardizzone Artist and Illustrator, Alan Powers, Lund Humphries, 2016
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