Ralph Beyer

Dates: b.1929 - d.2008

Gender: Male

Nationality: German

Ralph Beyer’s father was an art historian whose writings on and friendships with artists and architects of the day were to have a lifelong impact. With the rise of the Nazi Party, Beyer fled Germany and was to remain in England from 1937 onward. At the age of 16 Beyer became an apprentice to Eric Gill. He went onto study at Central School of Arts & Crafts and Chelsea School of Art. Read more…

Featured artworks by this artist:

Other artworks in churches by this artist:

Carved sandstone panel inscriptions and brass inlaid in marble floor at Coventry Cathedral; carving and typography at St Paul's Bow Common

Biography:

Ralph Beyer’s father was an art historian whose writings on and friendships with artists and architects of the day were to have a lifelong impact. With the rise of the Nazi Party, Beyer fled Germany and was to remain in England from 1937 onward. At the age of 16 Beyer became an apprentice to Eric Gill. He went onto study at Central School of Arts & Crafts and Chelsea School of Art. While attending Chelsea he met Henry Moore whom he later assisted before being interned as an enemy alien at the beginning of World War II. Beyer later joined the Pioneer Corps in France and the Intelligence Corps in Germany.

Upon his return to the UK he worked on many projects for the architectural firm Murray & Maguire before his career-defining commission to be part of Basil Spence’s rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral. Beyer’s pieces for the Cathedral were among the most controversial aspect of an already controversial proposal but have become for many the strongest aspect of the rebuilding. His work for the Cathedral included carved quotations and symbols into sandstone panels as well as cut brass letters inlaid in the black marble floor. For this work he created a unique typography based upon his own freeform writing style. Beyer’s Guardian obituary describes his unique contribution to lettering: ‘to evolve letterforms and symbols in the language of the art of this century. To give letters, words, sentences a fresh vitality...’ His was a sculptural approach in which each letter was, as Spence put it, ‘felt’.

His Times obituary of March 2008, credited Beyer as having ‘changed architectural lettering in Britain from the craft tradition of Gill and his disciples into an art form. He took the naive simplicity of those early Christian inscriptions, the lettering and symbols that so intrigued his father, and transformed them into something that seemed informal but was instinctively controlled.’