Lettice Sandford

Lettice Sandford (British, 1902-1993)

Lettice Sandford (Lettice Mackintosh Rate) was an artist and engraver born in 1902. In 1929 she married Christopher Sandford.

As a girl Lettice Rate studied at the Byam Shaw and Vicat Cole School of Art, and later, with an interest in book illustration, at the Art Section of the Chelsea Polytechnic. Here she worked under Percy Jowett, who had earlier taught her at her boarding school in north London. She was taught to engrave on wood by Robert Day, and etching by Graham Sutherland. On a skiing holiday in Switzerland she met the printer Christopher Sandford, and they were married in 1929. Together they ran the Boar’s Head Press, whose books were printed at the Chiswick Press, of which Christopher was a director. Her engravings for their first two books, published in 1931 and 1932, were plainly early work, engaging things, but somewhat amateur in style. Then she saw a copy of Blair Hughes-Stanton’s Comus with its fine white lines engraved into solid black backgrounds, and for the next couple of years his style was all-important to her: the engravings for Sappho (1932) are among her finest.

In 1933 Christopher Sandford bought the Golden Cockerel Press from Robert Gibbings, and, though he transferred the printing to the Chiswick Press, was able to maintain the very high standards of book production that Gibbings had achieved working at home in Waltham St Lawrence. The finest of engravers continued to work for him – Gibbings himself, Eric Gill, Hughes-Stanton, Eric Ravilious, John Buckland Wright, almost everyone of consequence – to produce a series of finely printed illustrated books that are now too often outside the range of ordinary collectors. Lettice was able to take her place in this galaxy, and, apart from various smaller books, to cut fine line-engravings on wood for The Golden Bed of Kydno (1935 – printed in reverse by collotype, so that they seemed to have been cut in copper), 19 copper engravings for The Song of Songs (1936) and 20 in zinc for The Golden Cockerel Greek Anthology (1937).

These marked the high-point of her career as illustrator. She was influenced now by Matisse, with simply cut lines, though with the same sensuous approach to the female form as those she had cut for the Boar’s Head.

She produced two children’s books, Roo-ooo and Panessa (1938) and Coo my Doo (1943), her pen and colour-wash drawings printed by lithography. After the Second World War she illustrated four books with pen drawings for the Folio Society, the last in 1953. In all her work appeared in some two dozen volumes.

References: Jeremy Sandford. Figures and landscapes: the art of Lettice Sandford, 1991; Lettice Sandford, Wood engravings / Lettice Sandford, 1985.