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