Edward Calvert

(20 September 1799 - 14 July 1883)

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English wood-engraver and painter. The son of a soldier, he entered the Navy but left the service after the death in action of his closest friend. He studied drawing in Plymouth with Thomas (or James) Ball and with Turner's champion Ambrose Bowden Johns (1776-1858). In 1824 he moved to London and entered the Royal Academy Schools. Through John Giles, Samuel Palmer's cousin, Calvert met William Blake and the Shoreham circle of the Ancients. He visited Shoreham and, supported by private means, escaped from his Academy studies to pursue his interest in wood-engraving.

Rich in Arcadian imagery and chiaroscuro, Calvert's 11 miniature prints, produced between 1827 and 1831, are masterpieces of the medium and are among the most intense expressions of the Ancients' artistic sensibility. Like Palmer, he was inspired by Blake's illustrations to Thornton's edition of Virgil, but the figural content of Calvert's prints, of which the finest is the Chamber Idyll (1831), is more akin to his friend and fellow student George Richmond's interpretation of Blake than to Palmer's. Unlike the other Shoreham artists, Calvert did not base his pastoral visions on religious poetry such as that of Milton or Bunyan, but found inspiration in Theocritus and other pagan idylls. Early states of his prints frequently incorporated Christian sentences (e.g. the Cyder Feast) apparently less out of conviction than a desire to refute charges of paganism, since he removed them from later states.

He was born in Appledore in Devon and, after a spell in the Navy, studied art at Plymouth and the Royal Academy (1824). His early visionary work was greatly inspired by William Blake, and he become a member of the Blake-influenced group known as The Ancients which met at Samuel Palmer's in Shoreham, Kent in the later 1820s and early 1830s. Amongst Calvert's finest works are exquisite miniature wood engravings which date from this early period; his wood and copper engravings all date from 1827–31, but were only seen by friends until published by his son in 1893. He also made etchings. In 1844 he visited Greece.

Much of his subsequent life was spent with his wife Mary, in Dalston and nearby Hackney, a short distance from London. His work from this later period shows a Classical influence.

Edward Calvert and his wife are buried at Abney Park Cemetery, Stoke Newington, London; the headstone reads He was welcomed in Helicon. The British Museum has some 65 of his drawings, and about 40 prints, as well as many of the printing blocks and plates for them.


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