He has drawn camel-men, and princes of the desert, donkey-boys, officers, descendants of the Prophet, a vice-president of the Turkish Chamber, slaves, sheikhs and swordsmen. They represent a fair choice of the real Arab, not the Algerian or Egyptian or Syrian so commonly palmed off on us, not the noisy, luxury-loving, sensual, passionate, greedy person, but a man whose ruling characteristic is hardness, of body, mind, heart, and head.

T.E. Lawrence on Kennington’s Arab Portraits

Following the publication of its landmark Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph. The Complete 1922 Text in 1997, the Castle Hill Press produced an offprint edition of the ‘Arab Portraits’ by Eric Kennington which illustrate the book. The edition was limited to 225 numbered prints of the portraits, each with the manuscript titles and copy numbers added by a calligrapher beneath the image, and presented in a cardboard mount. The selection offered here are all in fine condition and are priced at £95 each.

To read our descriptions of the individual portraits please click here. All portraits are offered at £95 each.

T.E. LAWRENCE’S FIRST DRAFT of Seven Pillars of Wisdom was mostly written in the course of 1919, but the manuscript was lost at Reading Station in November of that year. Drawing upon his memory and a typed copy of a section of the text, Lawrence reconstructed it in 1920, but later abandoned this version after an abortive attempt to derive an abridgement from it, and eventually burned the manuscript. By the latter part of 1920, Lawrence had determined to print the text in a private press edition and began a third draft, which was completed in 1922. Worried that it might suffer the fate of its first predecessor, Lawrence arranged for the Oxford Times to print eight copies of this text, giving the manuscript to the printers one chapter at a time and in a random sequence, to minimise the risks of piracy. Once the printing was finished, the sheets were assembled in the correct order and paginated in manuscript by Lawrence, who circulated copies among his literary acquaintances for their criticism and comment.

Once he had decided to publish the book himself, Lawrence also began to work on illustrations for the text and ‘[f]or this purpose he made contact with Eric Kennington, whose work as one of the official war artists was very highly regarded. He asked whether it might be possible to draw portraits based on photographs of the Arab personalities in Seven Pillars. Kennington, whose previous knowledge of Lawrence had been derived from the Lowell Thomas lectures, was fascinated by the project, but he rejected the idea of working from photographs. Instead, he suggested that he should visit the Middle East and draw the Arabs from life’ (J. Wilson, Lawrence of Arabia (London, 1989), p. 641). Shortly afterwards Lawrence was appointed to a position in the Colonial Office at the behest of Churchill, and therefore could not accompany Kennington to the Middle East as he had planned to. Nonetheless, as Lawrence wrote to Robert Graves, ‘Kennington is going all the same: (that man is a great man) and as an official I’ll be able to help him even more than ever’ (letter of 19 February 1921). Kennington returned from the Middle East with a remarkable series of pastels – known as his ‘Arab Portraits’ – ‘which were to become the striking illustrations in the subscribers’ [edition of] Seven Pillars [of Wisdom]’ (J. Wilson, T.E. Lawrence (London, 1988), p. 151).

Lawrence constructed the text of the 1926 ‘Subscriber’s Edition’ of Seven Pillars of Wisdom from the annotated and densely-edited sheets of one copy of the 1922 Oxford Times text, and reduced it by about a third from about 334,500 words to some 250,000 words. The 211 copies of the 1926 edition were only available to subscribers selected from Lawrence’s friends and their friends, and were lavishly illustrated with reproductions of Kennington’s portraits, printed in colour by Whittingham and Griggs. As Lawrence had promised to his subscribers, Seven Pillars of Wisdom was never reprinted during the author’s lifetime, and was first made available to the public in the edition published by Jonathan Cape in 1935, a few months after Lawrence’s death (see item 14). The 1935 edition of Seven Pillars of Wisdom and Revolt in the Desert (an abridgment of Seven Pillars of Wisdom published in 1927; see item 15) were both illustrated with monochrome reproductions of Kennington’s illustrations (some of which were cropped), although the limited editions of these titles did include some reproductions of the portraits in colour. However, the complete set of Kennington’s twenty Arab Portraits was only available in colour in the 1926 ‘Subscribers’ Edition’ of Seven Pillars of Wisdom until 1997, the year that the Castle Hill Press published its landmark Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph. The Complete 1922 Text, with the illustrations reproduced in colour.

Shortly after the first volume of the Castle Hill Press edition was published, Jeremy Wilson was contacted with the news that a complete set of proofs of the colour portraits, from the collection of a partner in Whittingham and Griggs (the printers of the plates of the ‘Subscriber’s Edition’) had been discovered. These proofs were in exceptional condition and were ‘before letters’ (i.e. without the captions which were added to the published plates), and from these proofs the Castle Hill Press produced 250 sets of prints of the portraits, which were numbered on the versos in pencil and made available to the subscribers to the Seven Pillars of Wisdom . . . The Complete 1922 Text in a portfolio.

The Castle Hill Press also produced 225 sets of the portraits as offprints from Seven Pillars of Wisdom . . . The Complete 1922 Text. These offprint portraits were individual prints, with the manuscript titles and copy numbers added by a calligrapher beneath the image (printed captions give the copyright information and artist’s name). This is a selection of these numbered, limited edition portraits, which are all in fine condition, with the original cardboard mounts and clear plastic sleeves.

To read our descriptions of the individual portraits please click here. All portraits are offered at £95 each.

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