The work of the engraver, designer and typographer Reynolds Stone (1909-1979) is extremely well-known, although his name is not. You’re likely to have not only seen Stone’s work, but also, in a sense, to own it: in the 1950s he designed the official coat of arms on the British passport which is still in use today. He also created designs for the Bank of England’s £5 and £10 notes, for the head of Queen Elizabeth II on postage stamps, and for the masthead of The Times. And if you’ve ever visited Westminster Abbey, you’ve probably seen his memorial stones commemorating the former prime minister Winston Churchill, and poet T. S. Eliot. Impressive achievements indeed, for an artist who was largely self-taught!
As well as his many high-profile public commissions, Stone produced many beautiful engravings, drawings and watercolours for private clients, and for his own enjoyment. He created miniature masterpieces, some of which measured only three inches in size. The landscape of Dorset, above all his much-loved wild garden at his home in Lytton Cheney, inspired much of his work. The novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch, a close friend of his, remarked in the address she gave at his memorial service that, ‘Reynolds once said that he would be content to paint for the rest of his life within his own garden.’ His daughter Emma recalled in a BBC interview that, ‘His garden at Litton Cheney was a wild and mostly uncultivated place, which is how he liked it. He would suffer if even a branch was lopped from a tree’. Reynolds Stone’s images of his garden capture it in all seasons and moods: he lovingly, meticulously delineates its tangled undergrowth, interlacing trees, winding paths and streams, and imbues them with mystical intensity.
Reynolds Stone’s home was often filled with illustrious guests, including the art historian Kenneth Clark, the poets Stephen Spender, John Betjeman, and Kathleen Raine, artist John Piper, and composer Benjamin Britten. The guests were invited by Stone’s sociable wife, Janet. He loved their company, but would often continue his work whilst sitting in their midst, intent on realising his vision, hardly hearing the hubbub around him. Or he would escape to wander in the garden, his haven. Reynolds Stone was extremely modest and retiring, and he was content for his work to remain anonymous. But perhaps you will think of him now, the next time you pick up your passport.
To learn more about the life and work of Reynolds Stone, you may like to read the article ‘A Centenary Tribute’ by the Fine Press Book Association.