Vernon Richard’s Photos of George Orwell

One thing you would never associate with author George Orwell is “Mr. Mom”. But he was indeed that for the last few years of his life, albeit with help from nanny Susan Watson and sister Avril Blair.

In May of 1944, while doodle-bugs were dropping all over London, Eric Blair (the real name of George Orwell) and his wife Eileen O’Shaughnessy were told of a mother who gave birth to a son she couldn’t keep due to a wartime affair. Eager to become parents (Eric thought he was sterile, simply because he hadn’t had any children up to that point), the new parents were able to adopt the boy in June. They named him Richard Horatio Blair; the first name coming from Eric’s father’s name and “Horatio” after an uncle. Eric and Eileen took to the new baby and moved from their old flat at 10a Mortimer Crescent, Kilburn to 27b Canonbury Square, Islington, North London. A bomb had caved in the ceiling at Mortimer Crescent right before adopting the boy, so the new move was a must.

eileen and richard

Eileen and Richard, in a photo that would be on the fireplace mantle at Canonbury Square.

While George was busy writing or out collecting info for journalism, Eileen was a devoted mother. The Blairs did not care that Richard was not theirs biologically. He was theirs in every other sense of the word. George even took it upon himself to burn out the info of Richard’s biological parents on his birth certificate with a cigarette. In letters by Eileen, she constantly talked about every milestone of Richard’s development.

In the spring of 1945 tragedy struck. Eileen went in for a hysterectomy, a rather common procedure for possible ovarian cancer, but her heart stopped on the operating table due to the anesthesia. Orwell’s friends figured he would put the child back up for adoption, but Orwell refused to consider it. For the first few months after Eileen’s death, Richard lived with family friends so George could get Eileen’s affairs in order and to hire a nanny/housekeeper to help him with Richard while he worked. Orwell would end up hiring Susan Watson.

In August of 1945 Animal Farm was published and Orwell found the fame he had always wanted. Fast forward to November 1946. Journalist and photographer Vernon Richards was commissioned to take photos of Orwell and Richard in the Canonbury flat. The photos taken were of Orwell doing every day things — having tea with his visitors, playing with Richard, dressing Richard for a walk outside in his pushcart, feeding Richard, rolling cigarettes, working on carpentry as Richard helps, and writing. Canonbury Square would be the last place Orwell and Richard would live in London. During the summer they had lived in a rented house called Barnhill on the island of Jura, off the coast of Scotland. They had come back for the winter of 1946/1947. From the summer of 1947 to January of 1949 they would live at Barnhill full time. Orwell’s younger sister, Avril, would end up taking Susan Watson’s place and Barnhill was never short of family and friends visiting. It was on Jura that Orwell wrote most of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

So these are the majority of the photos that Vernon Richards took, taken over a three-day period. They show Orwell rolling his own shag cigarettes. His china tea cups. The number of books around the flat. The toys Richard loves to play with. Orwell pushing Richard in the pram. The paint peeling off the buildings in London, and the general war-weary look of the area. Orwell showing off a sword from Burma in his bedroom. His old wicker Victorian chair that he always sat in, with a large portrait of a Blair relative on the wall in the background. Next to the chair was his scrap screen, something he was quite proud of. So much so that he talked about it in his essay Just Junk — But Who Could Resist It?

Scrap screens – all too rare nowadays – are simply ordinary wooden or canvas screens with coloured scraps cut out and pasted all over them in such a way as to make more or less coherent pictures. The best were made round about 1880, but if you buy one at a junk shop it is sure to be defective, and the great charm of owning such a screen lies in patching it up yourself.
You can use coloured reproductions from art magazines, Christmas cards, postcards, advertisements, book jackets, even cigarette cards. There is always room for one more scrap, and with careful placing anything can be made to look congruous.
Thus, merely in one corner of my own scrap screen, Cézanne’s card-players with a black bottle between them are impinging on a street scene in medieval Florence, while on the other side of the street one of Gaugin’s South Sea islanders is sitting beside an English lake where a lady in leg-of-mutton sleeves is paddling a canoe. They all look perfectly at home together.

Enjoy the photos. Click on individual ones to enlarge.

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385339_10151490708893296_1404014465_n IMG_2864 IMG_0430 IMG_2867 IMG_2868 IMG_2869 IMG_2870 IMG_2871 IMG_2873 IMG_2872IMG_2874 IMG_2886 IMG_2887 IMG_2876 IMG_2877 IMG_2878 IMG_2879 IMG_2881 IMG_2882 IMG_2884 IMG_2885 IMG_2886 IMG_0432 IMG_2890 IMG_2895 IMG_2877 IMG_2896 IMG_2897 NPG P865; George Orwell by Felix H. Man (Hans Baumann) george and richard IMG_2892orwell richard vernon photo

IMG_2898 IMG_2899 IMG_2900 IMG_2901 IMG_2902 IMG_2903 IMG_2904 IMG_2905 IMG_2906 IMG_2907 IMG_2908 IMG_2909 IMG_0399 IMG_0402 IMG_0400 IMG_0401

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6 thoughts on “Vernon Richard’s Photos of George Orwell

  1. These are some great shots of Orwell and many of them are new to me . I happen to be a printmaker working on a series of prints of writers. So far I’ve done one of Bernanos , Mauriac Gorky and Daudet. I’m currently on an Orwell and I was wondering if any of the ones on this page are under copywrite? Could you let me know ? Thanks, Ron Boutte

    • Sorry for the late reply. I am actually unsure if they are copyrighted. I’ve seen quite a few of them all over the Internet, and if they were they would probably belong to the estate of Vernon Richards. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help.

  2. Pingback: Facts About George Orwell « Writing As I Please

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  5. Pingback: George Orwell: cronicarii de carte vs cronicarii de film | din viata punct ro

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