Peter Campbell

Peter Campbell, who was born in Wellington in New Zealand in 1937 and died in London in 2011, designed the LRB and wrote more than three hundred pieces for the paper, including, from 2000, a regular gallery piece. He also did the cover illustrations from 1993 until his death: his last, a fox in the street outside his house, was painted only a few weeks earlier. Many of these covers, as well as some of his other illustrations and book designs, can be seen in the collection Artwork and at

Mary-Kay Wilmers, who first worked with him on the Listener in the late 1960s, when he designed the books for such BBC series as Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation and Jacob Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man, wrote about his capacious interests. When there wasn’t an exhibition he liked, he described what he saw around him: gasometers, plane trees, beaches (and untucked shirts), funfairs, the squares of Bloomsbury (where the LRB offices are), the timber-framed houses of Wellington. He was also interested in how things work, writing memorably about escalators. There were, as Wilmers wrote, ‘few aspects of the world that Peter didn’t wish to honour’.

Art Lessons

Peter Campbell, 13 August 2020

Dear Anna,

Here are some snapshots of Italy. Long ago, when you were still almost young enough to have a use for one, I promised you a proper picture book. Sorry I didn’t cough up; take these as a kind of apology.

You would take different pictures and see different things in them. These notes are about what I looked at and noticed. Looking and noticing are not, of course, the only reasons...

Memories of New Zealand

Peter Campbell, 1 December 2011

Pitt Street in Wellington runs just below the crest of a ridge. It is steep. When you look up to the houses, you don’t see much more than roofs. To reach the front gates you take paths that angle up the ten-foot clay bank that was cut when the road was made. The land seems less stable than the timber-framed houses that sit like ships on a sea of clay and rotten rock that after a week...

Am I intruding? Open Windows

Peter Campbell, 3 November 2011

The motif of the open window in Romantic painting was ‘inaugurated’, according to Sabine Rewald, by two sepia drawings of his studio windows with the River Elbe beyond by Caspar David Friedrich. The drawings are exact in their rendering of casements, panes and the gradation of light on bare walls, and careful in their delineation of the distant riverbank.

At Tate Britain: John Martin

Peter Campbell, 20 October 2011

I begin to write about John Martin: Apocalypse (at Tate Britain until 15 January) before looking at the pictures. Maybe, I say to myself, if I set memories of Martin’s pictures against the words in the catalogue (Tate, £19.99), if I learn what he achieved in more than a century and a half of (variable) success, I’ll find that we owe his memory some kind of apology. Maybe, and...

At the Royal Academy: Degas

Peter Campbell, 6 October 2011

Until 11 December the exhibition Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement fills most of the main galleries at the Royal Academy. As well as paintings, drawings, photographs and sculptures by Degas himself, there are photographic panoramas of Paris that share the long horizontal shape of Degas’s pictures of dancers in the rehearsal room; there are also examples of the photographic...

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