Rising rents shut down Illustration Cupboard

Rising rents shut down Illustration Cupboard

The book artwork gallery and bookshop Illustration Cupboard will close for business after this year’s winter exhibition because of rising rents in central London.

Owner John Huddy told The Bookseller: “We’ve been in St James’s for 15 years and demand for retail space is getting ever more fierce. A number of galleries in recent years have had to move or close down because they can’t afford to stay and we are just next in line. We can’t compete with global brands.”

The final exhibition will be the current show, which is running now until 22nd December with original artwork from Shirley Hughes, Anthony Browne, David McKee, Brian Wildsmith, Angela Barrett, Anita Jeram, Jane Ray, John Lawrence, Chris Wormell, Lauren Child and Benedict Blathwayt.

Huddy said he had thought “a lot” about moving the gallery to a different location but after 25 years in business decided to call it a day. 

The business has 10 full- and part-time members of staff who were made aware of problems with rising rents some months ago. Employees have now all found new jobs and the Illustration Cupboard's publishing arm, which launched in 2014, is on hiatus but may be resurrected at some point in the future, he added.

Huddy launched the Illustration Cupboard in 1995 to display artwork from illustrators after his mother, writer and publisher Delia Huddy, asked if he had thought about working with illustrators. For several years the exhibitions Huddy put together were held at a friend’s gallery in Bond Street before the business moved to its current address in 2006.

Over the years the gallery has worked with major UK illustrators as well as artists from abroad such as Satoshi Kitamura, Shaun Tan and Maurice Sendak. It has shows artwork from graphic novels, films and political cartoons and in the last five years Huddy has run illustration exhibits with partners in Asia.

“I’ve worked with some amazing people - the best in the world - and the work sells itself,” Huddy said. “We were also one of the first art galleries in London to have an online shop, so I’m rather proud of that. I hope I have raised the profile of children’s illustration and I will keep in touch with everyone.”

Illustrator Steven Lenton, whose work is published by Nosy Crow and Simon & Schuster, among others, said the closures was "terrible news".

"I love the Illustration Cupboard, it is such a treasure trove of wonders and the only gallery and shop in the UK with such a special selection of original work and signed books," he told The Bookseller.

Sarah McIntyre, illustrator and founder of the Pictures Mean Business campaign, said: "John Huddy and his team were amazing; they created a hub for children's book illustrators in central London back when there wasn't really one, and made people think specifically about our illustration work, and gave it market value.

"With the Pictures Mean Business campaign, they were really its forerunners because they took our work seriously, showed people wanted it, were willing to gather around it, and pay for it."