B’Fhiú an Braon Fola (Front), Séamas Ó Maoileóin, Sáirséal 7 Dill (1958). Cover design: Anne Yeats

B’Fhiú an Braon Fola (Back), Séamas Ó Maoileóin, Sáirséal 7 Dill (1958). Cover design: Anne Yeats

An tSraith ar Lár, Máirtín Ó Cadhain, Sáirséal 7 Dill (1967). Cover design: Anne Yeats

An tSraith Dhá Tógáil, Máirtín Ó Cadhain, Sáirséal 7 Dill (1970). Cover design: Anne Yeats

An tSraith Tógtha, Máirtín Ó Cadhain, Sáirséal 7 Dill (1977). Cover design: Anne Yeats

Codladh an Ghaiscigh, Máire Mhac an tSaoi, Sáirséal 7 Dill (1973). Cover design: Anne Yeats

Anne Yeats (1919-2001) was the daughter of poet WB Yeats and a niece of painter Jack B Yeats. She studied at the Royal Hibernian Academy Schools before working at the Abbey Theatre as chief stage designer. From the early 1940s on she concentrated on painting but over the years she created many covers for Irish language publishers Sáirséal agus Dill.

Much less retrained by commercial considerations than other contemporary publishers, Sáirséal agus Dill’s cover designers were free to explore styles which didn’t have to fit with markets or genres. Most of their designers were primarily artists who dabbled in book design and illustration as an extra income stream. The work that they created has a timeless quality that is lacking from a lot of covers where commercial considerations are foremost.

These examples of Yeats’ designs cover a twenty year period from 1958. It would be hard to guess the year that any of them was designed just from looking at the cover. Particularly strong is the illustration on B’Fhiú an Braon Fola which wraps around to the back. The book is an account of Séamas Ó Maoileóin’s involvement in the Rising, War of Independence and the Civil War. The title translates as ‘The drop of blood was worth it’ but Yeats’ gory depiction is far less glorious.

Less obviously figurative but equally striking is the cover of Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s An tSraith ar Lár. The grey background is in fact a metallic silver ink which really sets off the rough pen and ink illustration.

Cor Klaasen Exhibition

Thank you to everyone who came along and supported the Cor Klaasen exhibition. The reaction was great and it was a pleasure to be able to present such a strong body of work to a wider audience. I would very much like to thank the Klaasen family for being so open and enthusiastic about sharing Cor’s work. You can view photos of the exhibition and opening here. I hope to add much more of his work to the website, www.corklaasen.com over the coming weeks.

Poetry Leaving Certificate Anthology, WJ Steele, Fallons (1969). Cover design: Cor Klaasen

Introducing English, Augustine Martin, Gill & Macmillan (1970). Cover design: Cor Klaasen

Léamh Só, Proinsias MacSuibhne, Fallons (1972). Cover design: Cor Klaasen

Thank you to everyone who came along to the Culture Night exhibition in Mary’s Abbey. It was a very enjoyable night in a wonderful historic setting. I was delighted to be asked by Ruth Kelly to take part in the event and it was great to share the evening with Donny Keane, whose ‘Life thru my Mobile Phone’ proved to be a personal and witty view of Dublin and beyond, and my brother Barry McCormack who finished the proceedings perfectly with song.

Since then I have been working through Cor Klaasen’s amazing archive of work and selecting pieces for the upcoming exhibition. Above are two examples of his abstract geometric work and also a beautiful two colour overlay illustration for the cover of Léamh Só. The image on the poster for the exhibition is adapted from an illustration on the cover of another book from the same period – When the Saints…

The opening is on Wednesday 3 November from 6-8pm and all are welcome. Brian Lalor, printmaker and editor of The Encyclopedia of Ireland will open the exhibition.

The exhibition will run from Thurs 4 – Wed 10 November inclusive and will be open daily from 11–5.


Cor Klaasen: Jackets, Covers & Sleeves

Venue: Adifferentkettleoffishaltogether, 18 Ormond Quay Upper

Times: Daily 11 – 5pm. Thurs 4 – Wed 10 November inclusive

Opening: Wednesday 3 November, 2010, 6 – 8 pm. Guest Speaker: Brian Lalor

Sponsors: The Netherlands Embassy, Gill & Macmillan and Hudson Killeen.

Cor Klaasen Exhibition

August 30, 2010

Walking in Wicklow, J.B. Malone, Helicon (1964). Cover design by Cor Klaasen.

The unfortunate Fursey, Mervyn Wall, Helicon (1965). Cover design by Cor Klaasen.

Meeting Christ, Brian Kelly, Educational Company of Ireland (1971). Cover design by Cor Klaasen.

Thinking Through Mathematics, Gerard Beggan,  Fallons (1971). Cover design by Cor Klaasen.

Aistí agus comhrá, Pádraig Mac Concoille,  Fallons. Cover design by Cor Klaasen.

Cuir Síos Air,  Fallons. Cover design by Cor Klaasen.

I included a single cover by Cor Klaasen in a previous post and commented that I hadn’t managed to track down many examples of his work despite knowing that he was both talented and prolific. Since then I’ve been contacted by Cor’s widow, Tineke, who has been generous enough to show me the comprehensive archive of his work which is in the family’s possession.

Cor Klaasen is a significant figure in the history of Irish graphic design and it is indicative of the lack of importance attached to visual culture in Ireland that such a rich body of work has faded from view. In order to begin to rectify this situation Vintage Irish Book Covers, along with the Klaasen family, are organising an exhibition of Cor’s work from the sixties and seventies which will coincide with Design Week 2010. The exhibition will consist of book cover designs for Gill & Macmillan, Fallons, Helicon, Torc and the Talbot Press, amongst others, as well as a series of striking record sleeves designed for the Mercier Press. You can see more of Cor’s work and updates on the exhibition here: www.corklaasen.com.

Cor was a natural illustrator whose style developed over his career as he experimented with different media and techniques. In the fifties he favoured pen and ink. His artist’s notebook Het is Niet Waar (1954) captures the essence of his style from this period – a wonderful mix of George Grosz grotesque and Jim Flora’s exuberant fun. I hope to add some pages from this marvelous book to the corklaasen.com site soon.

By the sixties Cor is using cut-outs and collage to achieve his lively designs. Most of the examples above use this method. The exception is The Unfortunate Fursey which is a mix of pen and ink and colour overlay in three colours. All of the rest are just two colour jobs but achieve maximum effect by imaginative use of colour mixing.

Walking in Wicklow was one of the first of Cor’s covers that I became aware of and it is still one of my favourites. The couple have been cut from black card using a swivel blade. No mean feat considering the original cutouts are reproduced same size on the book cover.

Meet Christ and Live!, Michel Quoist, Gill & Macmillan (1972). Cover design by Cor Klaasen.

Prayers of Life, Michel Quoist, Gill & Macmillan (1973). Cover design by Roísín Daly.

Above are two of the most striking Irish book covers I’ve seen from the early seventies. Both are for religious books by French writer and priest Michel Quoist.

Cor Klaasen (1926-1989) was a Dutch designer who came to Ireland in 1956 after answering an advertisement placed by O’Kennedy Brindley in an Amsterdam newspaper. Holland’s loss was Ireland’s gain as Klaasen proved to be a very capable designer and later an enthusiastic educator. He designed many book covers for Folens, Gill & Macmillan and Helicon amongst others. Unfortunately, I haven’t managed to track down many examples, but it is nice to know that they are out there waiting to be unearthed.

The elusive Roísín Daly’s design for Prayers of Life is every bit as strong as Klaasen’s cover. The computer punch tape makes a far better cityscape then it does storage medium – it takes about 10 metres of tape to store 4k of information. Daly also designed covers for Gill & Macmillan’s Logos imprint but beyond that I can find no information.


Many thanks to Regan in the Winding Stair Bookshop for allowing me to mount the Vintage Irish Book Cover exhibition in the shop. The display is still in place for a short time if anyone still wishes to view it.

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