[ Retrospective exhibition ]

John Burningham – An Illustrated Life

This display of artwork, puppets and models at Burgh House in Hampstead from John Burningham’s work was the first since his death in 2019. It included about 30 pieces of work from his childhood and school days, through to his iconic London transport posters, artwork for books including Mr Gumpy’s Outing and Avocado Baby, and features puppets and models including a green racing car which helped Burningham capture the flight of Ian Fleming’s Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang.

An illustration from Burningham’s final collaboration with his wife Helen Oxenbury, Air Miles was also included in the exhibition. Air Miles is based on Miles who featured in his book Motor Miles, the difficult family dog, who liked to ride around in Burningham’s car and sit in Hampstead cafes.

John Burningham –
An Illustrated Life ran
until September 4th 2022
at Burgh House
London NW3 1YT


Ham & High


Original artwork for a poster from the book ‘Seasons’.

John Burningham does weather really well. Seasons was published in 1969 with a poster for each of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, folded into the book. Each poster could be pulled out and put on a wall.

Looking back John felt the book might become a page of history – “Now that Global Warming is changing the climate”

Retrospective exhibition: An Illustrated life - Original illustration for the picture Book Avocado Baby

It was getting so strong it could…

Avocado Baby

Original artwork for the book from 1982

Avocado Baby was published 40 years ago. This story of a fussy baby, whose world is transformed when he is persuaded to eat some avocado, is based on Burningham’s youngest daughter Emily. “Emily had a passion for avocado pears. She was, and still is, quite physically strong, as is the baby in the story.”

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Bottle Puppets

2 original artworks c1960

These puppets in a bottles are early models that John made after he left the Central School of Arts and Crafts and travelled to Israel. There the Polish film animator, Yoram Gross, gave him a job making puppets for a film he was producing of Thomas Mann’s Joseph and his Brothers.

Puppets made by John Burningham in his retrospective exhibition
Retrospective exhibition: An Illustrated life - glass Palette

Glass Palette

From John’s Hampstead studio

One of several art palettes from John’s Hampstead studio. His wife and fellow illustrator Helen Oxenbury described his art style, “‘Everything but the kitchen sink’ is the only way I can describe the medium John used for his work. Sprays, glues, inks, pigments and I would sometimes be asked for some flour.

Borka - the Adventures of a Goose with No Feathers

Original artwork for the book from 1964

John’s friend and fellow illustrator John Lawrence remembers visiting him at the time he was working on Borka. He recalls his amazement at climbing down into the Percy Street basement flat and seeing the artwork for the book laid out across the floor and Burningham apparently randomly, applying bursts of car paint spray and swipes of boot polish to the artworks.

But Borka did not go. She could not fly. Instead she went and hid, and watched them leave

Exhibit: An Illustrated life - Illustration for Borka book

“Down with the simpering 19th century goody-goody books that deprived children of their animal nature, wild imagination and lust for living”

Maurice Sendak, author and illustrator of Where the Wild Things Are introducing Burningham’s autobiography.​

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