Wordsworth's Paradise Lost catalogue wins Axa prize

Sharon Heal, Issue 105/11, p9, November 2005
A small independent museum scooped the top prize at the annual art catalogue competition in London last month.
The Wordsworth Trust won the £5,000 prize for Paradise Lost: the Poem and its Illustrators, which accompanied the exhibition about John Milton's poem.

Stephen Hebron, the design and exhibition officer at the trust, told Museums Journal he was delighted with the result. He said: 'It was a
successful collaboration between the trust, the writers and the local printers.'

Robert Woof, the director of the Wordsworth Trust, said it would use the money to reprint the catalogue, which sold out of its original 1,000 print run before the exhibition ended.

'Above all, we hope that through this examination of what Coleridge called "the sister arts of graphical and metrical poesie", people will no longer be afraid of this great humanitarian poem.'

Paradise Lost was one of the trust's most popular exhibitions with nearly 32,000 visitors, and the trust is still getting requests for the catalogue.

It was the second time the Wordsworth Trust had been shortlisted and it was up against national organisations such as Tate Publishing and the British Museum Press.

Presenting the prize, Simon Jenkins, the writer and columnist, said he had always hated exhibition catalogues. 'You don't need judges - just a set of weighing scales and then you could give the prize to the lightest.' But he added that the winner had succeeded in doing what all good catalogues should do - interpreting art for ordinary people.

The prize, which is in its fourth year, is awarded to the catalogue that best combines expertise, research and design. The budget and circulation of the catalogue are taken into account to give smaller organisations a fair chance against museums with their own publishing arms.

There were more than 150 entries this year. These were cut down to a shortlist of 24 during a five-hour judging session and then over the summer the judges looked at the final 24 catalogues before making a decision. The judges included Mark Jones, the director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Brian Sewell the art critic at the Evening Standard.

The second prize, a full-page advertisement in the Art Newspaper, went jointly to the Henry Moore Institute for Depth of Field: the Place of the Relief in the Time of Donatello; and Sudan: Ancient Treasures by the British Museum Press.

The Milton Keynes Gallery received third prize for Phil Collins: Yeah... You, Baby You. Joint fourth prize went to Christopher Dresser: a Design Revolution, V&A Publications; and Thomas Banks: Britain's First Modern Sculptor, by the Sir John Soane's Museum.

The competition is sponsored by Axa Art Insurance and the Art Newspaper.

Sharon Heal