On Sunday I picked up a book called Realms of Tolkien – Images of Middle Earth which features twenty artists who have illustrated Lord of the Rings books. There’s the artists I’m familiar with of course, Lee, Howe and Nasmith but the work of Cor Blok, whose paintings appeared on the covers of the Dutch Editions of LOTR really caught my eye.
The above painting, The Dead Marshes was purchased by Tolkien himself, who wrote to Blok and told him that the paintings (he also purchased The Battle of Hornburg and Blok gifted him with Dunharrow) “caught the immediate attention of visitors to my home”. Blok was considering a series of paintings inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry when his brother suggested Lord of the Rings. Between 1959 and 1961 he created about 100 gouaches illustrating scenes from the book. A gallery owner suggested Blok contact Tolkien to see what he though of his work, and a meeting was arranged.
Tolkien, of course, liked Blok’s paintings very much, appreciating that the style left plenty of room for the reader’s imagination. Although the books with Blok’s covers were in print for 20 years, this is really the first time I’ve had a good look at Blok’s paintings.
This painting in particular caught my eye. It is of course a very famous scene from The Hobbit, and it is one of the most fascinating depictions of Gollum I have seen. Bilbo and Gollum are both sharply contrasted against the deep gloom, with an amazing amount of expression in Gollum’s very long fingers. Along with his strange, duck bill-like mouth and single eye this is easily one of the eeriest images in a Middle earth painting I have seen.
And arriving to my collection very soon, a deluxe slipcased edition of A Tolkien Tapestry: Pictures to Accompany The Lord of the Rings which has approximately 100 full-colour paintings, limited to 500 copies and is personally signed by Blok.