Artists out of Time

This blog is supposed to be focused on the illustrators of the 50s, 60s and 70s. But my first proper post was about a book from the 30s, and now I’m going to go all the way back to the turn of the 20th century.

H. R. Millar, The Enchanted Castle, 1907

H. R. Millar was a Scottish illustrator of the Golden Age. He worked from the 1890s to the 1920s. He worked primarily, if not exclusively, in black and white – I’ve found a set of books where Millar did the pen-and-ink drawings and another artist, Frank C. Papé, did the colour plates. His stuff seems to fit the qualities I’ve outlined for “heroic age” illustrators – the human level, the lack of sentimentality, the penmanship – half a century early.

The examples here are from E. Nesbit’s The Enchanted Castle (1907).

 

H. R. Millar, The Enchanted Castle, 1907

H. R. Millar, The Enchanted Castle, 1907

H. R. Millar, The Enchanted Castle, 1907

H. R. Millar, The Enchanted Castle, 1907

H. R. Millar, The Enchanted Castle, 1907

If it wasn’t for the fashions, this could be an artist from the 50s. And is he the only one? Is Millar an anomaly, or could it be that the heroic age has its origins much earlier than I thought?

 

Early Flickerings: E. H. Shepard’s Bevis (1932)

From Bevis: The Story of a Boy by Richard Jeffried (1932)

From Bevis: The Story of a Boy by Richard Jeffries (illustrations 1932, book first published 1882)

E. H. Shepard is best known these days for his whimsical illustrations for A. A. Milne’s children’s books, including his Winnie-the-Pooh stories, in the 1920s. But he was a versatile illustrator who worked in a variety of styles. His 1932 illustrations for Richard Jeffries’ Bevis: The Story of a Boy are an early example of heroic age illustration. His children are independent and active (there is no sign of any adults in any of the drawings), his settings are realistic, and the compositions and penmanship are just lovely.

From Bevis: The Story of a Boy by Richard Jeffried (1932)

From Bevis: The Story of a Boy by Richard Jeffried (1932)

From Bevis: The Story of a Boy by Richard Jeffried (1932)

From Bevis: The Story of a Boy by Richard Jeffried (1932)

From Bevis: The Story of a Boy by Richard Jeffried (1932)

Introducing the Heroic Age of Illustration

It’s commonplace to talk of illustration having a Golden Age – in Britain, it’s usually the age of Rackham and Dulac; in America, the age of Pyle and Wyeth. The stunning quality of the works of the best illustrators of the period is obvious and well-known.

Shirley Hughes, Little Women

Shirley Hughes, from Little Women by Louisa M Alcott, 1953

But there’s another great period of illustration that’s not so well-covered, and that’s what this blog is for. I call it the Heroic Age. Where the Golden Age was characterised by hefty collections of fairy tales lavishly illustrated with full-colour plates, the Heroic Age was more about human-level novels for younger readers, mostly illustrated in black and white, that didn’t talk down to children, but presented them as people with their own points of view and acting on their own initiative. The illustrations generally play it straight, not sweet or cartoony.

Stuart Tresilian, All The Mowgli Stories

Stuart Tresilian, from All the Mowgli Stories by Rudyard Kipling, 1932

The core of the Heroic Age is the 1950s and ’60s, but it has early flickerings, like Stuart Tresilian’s illustrations for Kipling’s Mowgli and Animal Stories in the ’30s, and continued into the ’70s and ’80s with the flowering of picture books and some of the Folio Society’s best illustrated editions of classic fiction. Some artists, like Victor Ambrus and Shirley Hughes, are still active.

Illustrators I plan to cover include Pauline Baynes; Michael Charlton; Anthony Colbert; Susan Einzig; Eric Fraser; Margery Gill; Charles Keeping; Nigel Lambourne; Antony Maitland; Jim Russell; Ronald Searle; William Stobbs; Krystyna Turska; Brian Wildsmith; and no doubt many others I’ve yet to discover.

Margery Gill, The Hidden Mill

Margery Gill, from The Hidden Mill by Elisabeth Beresford, 1965

The selection is personal, and is always going to be subjective. It’s biased towards British artists, not because I don’t like illustrators from other parts of the world, but because I’m not so aware of them. But I’ll cover any artist whose work I like and can be made to fit the remit of the blog.

So off we go.

Charles Keeping, The Haunted Mine

Charles Keeping, from The Haunted Mine by Richard Potts, 1968