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2008 - Toplis and The Book of Sark


Celebrating the centenary of The Book of Sark and the artistic talent of William Arthur Toplis

The Artist

William Arthur Toplis (1857-1942) visited Sark in 1883, for a holiday with his wife and a group of friends. Born and educated in Sheffield, he had already established a sound reputation as an artist in the UK but had been living in Jersey for two years prior to the Sark holiday. Toplis was so captivated by Sark and its coastline that the holiday simply turned into a lifetime residency and he never left the island except for brief business trips. His images of Sark remain just as potent today, reflecting the natural beauty of an island and coastline which has many devoted admirers. Except for modern trappings around the harbour and the safety rails at La Coupée, much of Sark's coastal scenery remains much as Toplis painted it a hundred and twenty years ago.

The Book of Sark

In 1908 Toplis published a lavish picture book illustrating twenty-one of his paintings of the island of Sark. Ten of the original works had been exhibited at the Royal Academy and each was accompanied by descriptive text written by his friend, the author John Oxenham. Toplis' strong, colourful and detailed images are popular advocates for the scenery of Sark and the additional short accounts of the island's geology and flora helped ensure that the 500 limited edition copies of the book were all sold by the early 1920s.

The Exhibition

The museum's 2008 exhibition Toplis and the Book of Sark celebrated the centenary of this highly collectable book, good copies of which still command a respectable price. Thanks to the generosity of the Toplis family and several private lenders the exhibition included not only a full set of framed prints but also:

  • Items from the Toplis family archive relating to the production of the book and the artist's life
  • Paintings of Wales and England from early in Toplis' career as an artist
  • Five of the original paintings illustrated in the Book of Sark, four of which were among his eighteen Royal Academy exhibits
  • Several other Toplis works depicting Book of Sark subjects
  • Five copies of the original Book of Sark and a copy of the new Centenary Edition which has since been re-printed from the original copper plates held by the Toplis family.

    In addition the exhibition included:
  • A touch-screen digital copy of the Book of Sark - which could also be viewed online
  • A recorded narration of John Oxenham's text to accompany the Toplis illustrations, read by local actor John Gaisford and made available to exhibition visitors on digital players. This could also be heard online accompanying a gallery of the Book of Sark images.

The digital resources mentioned above were part of a previous version of this website which has been archived by the British Library. Not all of the functionality mentioned above has survived the automated archiving process intact but some aspects do still work as links from this page