W J Loftie’s 1888 book Kensington: Picturesque and Historical is an unprepossessing volume. But inside, there are, as the title page states “upwards of three hundred illustrations (some in colour)” in the book (you’d think someone knew the exact number) and as you flick through it you can see that barely a page goes by without at least one picture on it, all of them by William Luker Junior, but many of them are quite small, almost cramped on the page. I can see why I’ve never paid too much attention to it. But, and there is a big but here, the library also has in its collection the original sketches for the book, tied up in three portfolios, and these are all rather bigger than the printed versions and these show that Luker was a rather better artist than I had thought, and much quirkier. He deserves to be taken as seriously as other book illustrators I have featured on the blog such as Herbert Railton (whose sketches by contrast are often improved by being turned into engravings on the printed page) and Yoshio Markino (who also worked with Loftie on “The Colour of London”).
Loftie, in his leisurely introduction, thanks everybody but Luker, but at the end he seems to remember his illustrator and the contribution he made. He calls him “my coadjutor“, an obscure word which can mean just assistant but is usually associated with the church as in the phrase “coadjutor bishop” ( a deputy with the right of succession). The word suits him. For my purposes he has succeeded to Loftie’s position as the author of a picturesque story about Kensington, told in images not words.
Isabel’s post last week included a Luker illustration which started me on a scanning journey which covered slightly more than a hundred images. So as you can imagine I will get more than one post out of Mr Luker and I can already envisage many different themes. In this post I’ll just run through a few of Luker’s preoccupations. In this view of tennis courts behind St Mary Abbot’s Church, Luker has found an unusual angle, looking down at the players, which emphasizes the remarkable height of the spire. He likes using the black margin, usually broken, and he likes to play with it – note the gap just above the spire. He also crosses the margin as you can see with the foliage. The illustrations are almost pushing at the text and vice versa.
The other quality that please me about Luker’s work is that it makes the familiar scenes of Kensington seem unfamiliar. That tennis court could be in any cathedral city on a tranquil afternoon in the 19th century. This view gives a similar impression.
It concentrates on the family group gathered in a green space, on a Sunday morning with Holy Trinity Church and the Brompton Oratory looming in the background in a city which is definitely London but also some imaginary city of large churches and open spaces. Like Markino, Luker loves the human figures, and although the pictures are in monochrome tones he has a sense of different seasons. This looks like a summer picture to me. I’m not so sure with this one.
Two women walk arm in arm along a wide street beside the railings at the border of a park. You imagine them sharing confidences as they stroll along. Compare it with this one ,which comes from this post. The bare branches could indicate autumn.
Below, a spacious view of a more familiar feature of Kensington. (Or, strictly speaking near Kensington). Probably in summer.
The next picture is definitely winter.
Kensington High Street looking east, or any snowbound street scene. Is that policeman supervising the man with the shovel, or merely indulging the universal tendency to watch someone at work?
Here is another view of the same street.
The time honoured art of window shopping. The bored girl stares into space waiting for her mother to finish so that they can proceed to the park. Her hoop and stick is ready for action. They were once as common as scooters are today, and like scooters, were used by older children as well. Or perhaps the girl is looking at another technological phenomenon.
A double bicycle, piloted by a Chaplinesque rider. it looks harder work than two individual bikes.
The big letters at the margin are not random, as I half-thought at one stage until realising the obvious. They are the first letters of a paragraph. The text intrudes into the images.
The picture below reminds me of one of Markino’s night time interiors.
High Street Kensington Station, with travellers on their way home. the long shadows fascinate me and the whiff of steam in the air, although I think steam trains on the Underground had been abandoned by the 1880s.
Both Loftie and Luker were Kensington residents, and lived in Stafford Terrace. They were presumably both acquainted with one of their neighbours, seen at work below.
Our good friend Edward Linley-Sambourne, artist and photographer at work in his home studio. (The margin line looks as if it was about to fall and the unconcerned artist is only saved by the easel.)
Loftie wrote other books about London subjects and Luker illustrated some of them, and books by other writers. I’ve been trying to find some of them which appear on the Library catalogue, without much success as yet. (some of those entries have come from very old versions of the catalogue. It’s sometimes like walking into a 19th century library down there.)
Mr Luker Senior was also an artist and painter of country scenes and animals, and also atmospheric pictures of the Middle East, another favourite subject for Victorian painters, like David Roberts and Edward Lear. (not to mention Richard Dadd). Luker Junior was born in 1867 and lived till 1957 so he certainly survived long enough to see some changes in Kensington.
He outlived this building.
The gothic folly known as Abbey which once stood where I now sit writing this (as I have pointed out before – see this post)
The gothic imagination also informs this view of a ruined tower which was once part of Campden House. You can see a photograph of it in another post.
Finally, another image which echoes one by Markino. Thistle Grove. Markino’s version is here. His version looks north I think, while this one by Luker looks south.
But both of them catch the mysterious quality of the narrow passage between the Fulham Road and the Old Brompton Road which I have walked down many times, and the lonliness of a nigh time walk between the lamps.
This week’s post has been a sample of Luker’s work showing a few images that appealed to me. I’ll come back to him again though in the near future.