book covers we love

Georgette Heyer’s Frederica – Arthur Barbosa (1965)


980e78276a767331603dc8bd7be00a10 GEORGETTE HEYER is one of my favourite writers. At the drop of a hat, I retreat back to the safety and comfort of her books, particularly Frederica, Venetia or These Old Shades. Like Sayers‘ and Ellison‘s books, Heyer’s have been republished and repackaged in many formats with many different covers, some great, some not. However, in my opinion you just can’t beat an Arthur Barbosa jacket.

Stylised, colourful and instantly recognisable, Barbosa’s  illustrations feature on many early Heyer novels. (Readers may also know his work from the ‘Flashman‘ series by George Macdonald Fraser.) He was, in fact, Heyer’s illustrator of choice, although Barbosa himself often said that book jackets were his least favourite type of illustration.

Ironically, perhaps, it is for this work that he is best known today.


The Grand Duke of illustration


Born ‘Artur Ernesto Teixeira de Vasconcelos Barbosa’ – and also known during his lifetime as Arthur E. Barbosa and Artur Barbosa – he was the son of the Portuguese vice-consul and a French mother. Although he used ‘Arthur’, the anglicised version of his name, he preferred, for the most part, to be known by the more formal ‘Barbosa’. He was extremely well-connected socially, including among his friends Hollywood actors Laurence Olivier and Rex Harrison, with whom he’d been at school, and the society photographer Cecil Beaton. He later formed a ‘court’ with Harrison and Beaton in which he was the Grand Duke, Harrison the aide-de-camp and Beaton the court photographer. Beaton took photos of these occasions.

While studying at the Central School of Art in London, Barbosa exhibited his work for the first time, coming to the notice of leading magazine and book publishers. After graduating, he worked in interior and theatrical design, taking a break during World War II to work for the Portuguese section of the Ministry of Information. After 1945, he created fashion illustrations for Moss Bros, before returning to jacket design and later interior design. His commissions included Harrison’s house in Portofino, Italy, and Elizabeth Taylor’s yacht.


Heyer’s favourite illustrator


In the 1950s, Barbosa began his association, both professional and personal, with the historical writer Georgette Heyer, whose covers his illustrations were to grace for almost 17 years. The very ‘Englishness’ of his style made his work extremely popular, particularly with American audiences. Barbosa illustrated several popular Heyer novels, including April Lady (1956), Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle (1957) and The Nonesuch (1963).

Barbosa’s covers are instantly recognisable. They all share a liveliness, a sense that the characters who inhabit them have been captured in action and thus we, the reader, are drawn in. We want to find out what they’ve been doing, who they are, what happens next. We simply have to pick up the book and untangle their story.

Frederica, published in 1965 by The Bodley Head, sports a favourite cover illustration, not least because of its use of the distinctive Barbosa colourway, the humour of the scene depicted and the confidence with which it is executed. It focusses on a particularly memorable episode in Heyer’s novel – the ascension of the balloon. Barbosa’s depiction of the scene, at first glance, is seemingly innocent, gay and joyous – it looks as if everyone is enjoying themselves, laughing and waving off the balloon and its occupants as they sail away. In Heyer’s text, however, it is rather the opposite. It’s a society event and young scamp Felix Merriville finds himself the focus of the Ton’s attention when the balloon takes off with the boy dangling beneath it. As Felix drifts away towards the horizon, his terrified and long-suffering sister, Frederica, gazes on in horror, along with the rest of society, certain that he is going to plummet to his death. Thus, in Barbosa’s illustration, the young man straddling the balloon basket and the crowds, particularly the man in shirt sleeves in the left-hand corner, arms thrown up in the air, take on different aspects when viewed with this information.

And that is really what makes a good book cover – an illustration that captures the attention, one that you can go back to again and again and discover another detail, another piece of the puzzle and something new that further sparks the imagination.

Barbosa’s work certainly does all that.


Book covers we love: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby – Francis Cugat (1925); Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man by E. McNight Kauffer (1952);  Dorothy L. Sayers’ Busman’s Honeymoon by Romek Marber (1963).

See also:How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original Penguin 10

Also of interest (Pinterest): Presenting Ms Georgette Heyer‘ and ‘Books that changed my life’ boards, both Pinterest;


Notice: Please note the images and quotations included in this article are for promotional purposes only and are intended as a homage to the designers, artists and writers cited. In no way, have we have intentionally breached anyone’s copyright.

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