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This summer the Ashmolean Museum Broadway will host an exhibition celebrating the work of F. L. Griggs (1876–1938). Griggs’s contemporary reputation as an etcher was unsurpassed as acknowledged by his election to the Royal Academy in 1931. Demonstrating an equal mastery of meticulous architectural detail and poetic effects of light and atmosphere, he created images of compelling visionary intensity. These were so accomplished that one devotee wrote to him assuming that his etching of Sarras – the home of Holy Grail in Arthurian legend – depicted an actual geographical location.
The son of a Hitchin baker, Griggs trained as an architect under C. E. Mallows. He moved permanently to Chipping Campden in 1905, renting Dover’s House for twenty years before designing and constructing his final home, New Dover’s House, which almost bankrupted him and remained unfinished at his death. Griggs collaborated with the renowned Arts & Crafts architect and designer, Ernest Gimson, on various projects, including several local war memorials. Later, in 1929 he founded the Campden Trust together with Gimson’s pupil Norman Jewson, the preserver of Owlpen Manor.
However, it is as a draughtsman and print-maker that Griggs is best known. His artistic career was assured in 1900 by a commission from Macmillan to illustrate their guidebook series Highways and Byways. Beginning with his native Hertfordshire (1902), he completed eleven further volumes, among them that devoted to Oxford and the Cotswolds (1905). Places that he originally encountered as an illustrator often subsequently provided him with inspiration for his own topographical and imaginative work.
Griggs’s experiments with etching began in 1895 but it was not until 1912, the year of his conversion to Roman Catholicism, that he created his first mature works in the medium. Thereafter, it remained his primary means of artistic expression. His profound faith reinforced his deep-seated love of the countryside and medieval architecture. He increasingly lamented England’s lost identity as a result of the Reformation of the sixteenth century, the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth, and the modern dissolution of community, accelerated by the horrors of the First World War, of the twentieth. Writing to his friend, the poet Russell Alexander on 20 September 1911 he proclaimed ‘Damn everything & especially change’.