Pevsner and the phasmagram
In 1944, while he was sitting in at the Architectural Review for Jim Richards, Pevsner described himself as ‘working on a Chart’. This was probably the curiosity which emerged from the Architectural Press in 1949 under the title ‘‘English History at a Glance’ – a slim volume the size and shape of an atlas which identified the milestones in each area of human progress and plotted them all on a single map.
Modelled on the German Kulturfahrplan or ‘Culture Timetable’, the ‘Chart’ coordinated events and individuals ‘according to the changing spirit of ages’ – very much Pevsner’s kind of thing: running one’s eye down the Chart, one could read off the simultaneous developments in art, science, politics, economics and religion.
It was a perfect tool for identifying people working ahead of their time, Pevsner’s ‘pioneers’. An innovator in any field might be given a label of one colour to designate the time of his birth, but this might project into a preceding or succeeding period and appear against a background of a different colour if his ideas were out of synch with his age. In the field of architecture, ‘pioneers’ such as Voysey, Mackintosh and Charles Holden are coloured conspicuously in the hue of the following stylistic period, whereas Lutyens carries the mud-brown label of the ‘Romantic and Industrial’ period well into modern times.
The Chart ends with a typically Pevsnerian statement: ‘Controversial placing of names is better than no decision on placing at all.’ Pevsner is directly credited with having provided the background notes on architecture that clarify the Chart (while Michael Tippett did the honours for music, and Robert Birley for history); but might he also lurk behind the ‘P. Dantry’ who, with ‘E. Savage’, is named as author of the historical digest ? The designer is ‘H.A. Vetter’.