The Patterned World of Enid Marx
Enid Marx working on flower and shell designs c. 1946. Courtesy of the House of Illustration.
I first came across Enid Marx's work because of a fondness for the King Penguin titles, a series of pocket-sized books that was published by Penguin between 1939 and 1959 on a variety of subjects. Many of the titles have decorated jackets and endpapers, and one of the first that caught my eye was Marx's cover for Some British Moths. Her designs for the King Penguins are on display amongst the designs for prints, books, London Transport posters, and fabrics in a career-spanning exhibition of her work, Enid Marx: Print, Pattern and Popular Art, at London's House of Illustration.
Cover for Some British Moths, King Penguin © Estate of Enid Marx
It turns out that Some British Moths was the first of five covers Marx designed for the series, after complaining to the series editor about the quality of the covers that preceded hers. Since moving to London, it's more obvious to me what an impact Marx and her group of friends from The Royal College of Art (where she was not allowed to graduate for being too "modern") including Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden, and Barbara Hepworth had on British design. Her birds and flowers and striking geometric designs are still commonly referenced on pillows and home designs in big box stores, and her printed paper can be bought by the sheet for gift wrap. I can recognize a print inspired by Enid Marx now from a mile away.
Marx used traditional hand-carved woodblock techniques to print on paper and fabric, and volunteered to design textiles for the wartime Utility Furniture Scheme, creating joyful, affordable printed fabric for the home to those returning from war. And she was first ever female engraver to be awarded the title of Royal Designer for Industry.
'Municipal' pattern paper for the Little Gallery, from wood engraving, c. 1930 © Estate of Enid Marx.
But she still remains a rather obscure name, overshadowed in her afterlife by her contemporaries. The House of Illustration's retrospective presents a strong argument for her place in history, highlighting her impressive and meticulous contributions to design and presenting her design aesthetic as responsible for setting the tone for mid-20th-century design.
Enid Marx: Print, Pattern and Popular Art is on view at The House of Illustration until September 23.