Tag Archives: Book illustration

Mr Railton returns

After a lengthy gap, we’re back with the artist and book illustrator Herbert Railton. I recently bought a copy of a book which combines three interesting characters: Railton, and blog favourite Hugh Thomson who both created illustrations for “Coaching days and coaching ways” (1893) by the entertainingly named W. Outram Tristram. It was he who wrote the final book Railton worked on, the fascinating, “Moated houses”, which was featured in the first post about him. I’m sure I’ll come back to the Railton/Thomson team-up in a future post but first I want to look at Railton’s Kensington connection.

One of his other projects was an illustrated edition of Leigh Hunt’s “The Old Court Suburb” (1855 / 1902) a rambling historical account of Kensington. Railton did most of the topographical pictures in the book. The Library possesses many of his original sketches for this project.

I have to say at this stage that Railton’s delicate and almost impressionistic pictures can be hard to scan. It is often easier to use the published versions, which have firmer lines. In this post I’ll use some of each. I’m concentrating on one location, Holland Park and Holland House.

If you’ve never encountered Railton’s work before this is a quite characteristic piece. The house is solid and rendered in some detail but at the same time it’s a little vague, glimpsed through some kind of summer haze, the foliage blending into the architecture. The one below is actually called “A peep at Holland House”

The house is even more indistinct. The focus of the picture is the sculpture of an urn, like a funery urn at the edge of the hedge frame.

If you know the park you’ll recognize the summer ball room turret, but perhaps not the wild trees and hedges which threaten to overwhelm it.

In the context of Hunt’s book, Railton’s illustrations work well in contrast to those of the other two artists, Claude Shepperson and Edmund J Sullivan, who were given the task of doing pictures of people from Kensington’s past.

 

Chloe and Delia admiring the flowers.

A bit of courtly behaviour.

After which the ladies and gentlemen could go on to some picturesque spots in the grounds, such as the famous sundial.


(Some of the originals are on this coloured paper. I don’t think it’s any kind of age-related deterioration but it does add a pleasingly antique feel to the pictures).

Lord Camelford, memorialised with a Roman altar, perished in a duel conducted in the grounds. There is a view of the wild looking site of his death in the first post.

We can head back to the house via the Dutch Garden.

And see some more details

The Oriel front, and the Terrace.

Even when Holland House was a private house, the grounds had visitors who might not be guests of the family. After their tour they might stroll to a nearby tavern, like this conveniently located hostelry.

See how once again Railton brings the picture to a point with some birds, in this case some fairly free range chickens.

When he wrote the Old Court Suburb, Hunt was also not far away ftom the house.


Edwardes Square (The name is from the family name of the first Baron Kensington. The square was laid out in 1811.) is just down the road . Here is another view.

Two girls stroll along next to the garden railings. Railton could manage figures well enough but he was sparing in his use of them.

When the illustrated edition of Hunt’s book was published, tourists were an established part of London life.

Note the editor, our old friend Austin Dobson, the go-to guy for scholarly introductions in those days.

Railton’s fellow illustrator Mr Edmund J Sullivan put a lady visitor (dressed in the fashions of the 1850s) in a couple of his pictures  who doesn’t seem too happy.

Here she looks like she’d like to sit down if the sign permitted.

(Is she bracing her back with her right hand, completely ignoring the guide book in her left, and waiting for her companion to get on with it so they can get to the gift shop?)

And here she (or a similar lady) looks a little melancholy, perhaps remembering those she mourns herself.

These two pictures have intrigued me since I first looked at the book, so forgive me for letting Mr Sullivan squeeze a few pictures into Mr Railton’s post. I wish he’d been able to develop the theme as an interesting contrast with the  topographical pictures but Railton was the headline act on this bill.

Postscript

Posthumous apologies to Claude Shepperson I suppose for not including any of his pictures in the post. Unfortunately, they’re a bit dull. By contrast, I’d like to see more of Edmund Sullivan’s’ work.


Thomson and Shakespeare: scheming wives and foolish men

I think I can be pretty certain that this is the last in the series of posts about illustrations to Shakespeare which I began last year and from my point of view at least it’s pleasing to end on another volume with pictures by my favourite illustrator of the period, Hugh Thomson. No magic in this one, although there are some bogus fairies, no fantasy woodlands or mythical islands just a town near London, and some desperate housewives. Desperate to have some fun anyway.

I’ve seen many of these pictures online in one form or another so why have I acquired my own copy of the book, scanned the pictures and created this post when I usually have some unique or rare pictures to show? Well partly because I love Hugh Thomson’s work and want to share my enthusiasm. It’s still worth pointing out as I did the very first time I wrote about him that his work is both of its period, the later 19th and early 20th century, and as modern as a graphic novel. Thomson takes care with historical accuracy in costume (as far as he was able) but in the costumes he puts modern people, as in the image above. I never imagined the merry wives as young particularly but the story makes more sense if they are relatively young and sexy rather than matronly and comedic.

(I don’t want to go far off topic here but this also applies to works like Pride and Prejudice.  In adaptations, Mrs Bennett is often played as old when in all likelihood she is meant to be about 40, and as attractive as her daughters. John Mullan points this out in his book “What matters in Jane Austen?”. Thomson himself succumbs to the temptation to portray her as a strictly comic figure in his illustrations to the book).

As we can see here, Anne Page is just a teenager, with a mother in early middle age, quite suitable for Falstaff’s misguided attentions. The letters go out.

And are received by the two wives, Mistress Page and Mistress Ford ,who don’t believe a word.

 

They go about their business, being seen about and about and looking good, among other things.

The boy Robin, supposedly Falstaff’s protégé, provides some comedy mileage.

And has some funny scenes of his own.

 

There is a bit bit of comic wooing.

And some more serious chatting up.

I love the way the dog echoes the posture of the young would-be lover, slouching just like the lanky youth.

Below Mistress Page looks after Robin in the street.

 

Everyone knows the story of Falstaff hiding in the laundry basket and ending up in the river. I used the pictures of that in a previous post so I won’t repeat them here but there’s a second trick on the portly knight.

A fruitless search of the basket.

And Falstaff in a poor  disguise as an female relative is beaten from the house by Mr Ford.

There is a final trick on Falstaff where Anne lures him into the woods with some of the town children pretending to be fairies.

 

This is part of her own scheme to avoid an unwanted suitor and hook up with the young fellow she really likes. Falstaff falls for the bogus fairy trick but is finally let in on the jape.

He sees the joke and there is an amicable ending. They’re all friends again. The no-hope suitor has to walk away without his intended, but he was only a sub-plot anyway, and Anne Page had her own ideas about the ending.

Postscript

Falstaff of course had returned by public demand. I will be back next week. Hugh Thomson will also be back at some point. I haven’t finished with him yet.

This was my backup post, in case the ones we were working on didn’t come together, and one of them didn’t. Hence the slightly sketchy commentary. Fortunately Thomson does most of the work. A few ideas are bubbling up and with any luck one of them will emerge next week.


Robinson and Shakespeare: Dreaming

Some of the illustrated editions of Shakespeare I’ve looked at in the last year were published by Hodder and Stoughton – Dulac’s The Tempest, Thomson’s As you like it and Robinson’s Twelfth Night. Most recently I looked at Arthur Rackham’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream which was published by Heinemann. I read recently that the Hodder books were an attempt to compete with and surpass Rackham’s MND which is sometimes said to be his masterpiece. Despite the different publishers the books followed a similar format – 40 coloured plates with some additional black and white pictures and decoration. Thomson followed the same formula when he did the Merry Wives of Windsor for Heinemann (a blog post looking at those pictures will be coming up in the next month or so, almost certainly the last of these Shakespeare related posts). But when Robinson was asked to do his own version of MND for Constable in 1914 he went his own way and produced a completely different kind of book with only a dozen colour plates and many more black and white pictures.

Arthur Rackham’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was acclaimed as one of the finest illustrated books of its day so its reputation overshadows William Heath Robinson’s version of the same play published only six years later. To my mind however, the Robinson version is better.

It isn’t a competition of course. Rackham’s version stuck to the formula for that set of books, Robinson wisely tried another way.

Many of Robinson’s picture are openly comedic, almost cartoon-like  in a way that Rackham doesn’t attempt. But many of them are very special and striking, – minimalist, stark, graphic, modern – where Rackham’s pictures are intricate, detailed, grotesque and resolutely Victorian. You can enjoy both. But give Robinson a chance.

The monochrome pictures show Robinson’s debt to Aubrey Beardsley. (Or does any intricate black and white image from this period echo Beardsley?)

The colour plates, like some of the pictures for Twelfth Night, have an interesting quality about them. Something like a stage set. Or something like a dream in fact. A not quite three dimensional space. An exterior masquerading as an interior.

A scene with classical costumes and a small number of props. A floor with a regular geometric pattern, as we saw in some of the Twelfth Night pictures.

Minimalism is the key here. A cool  place with the air of antiquity.

 

Calm beings , human or semi-supernatural sit and wait by the side of a calm pool, its surface barely disturbed.

When action occurs it is magical. Titania shakes smaller faeries out of her hair, sending them on their way to serve her. She poses like a dancer.

 

It’s a striking image, perhaps my favourite. Robinson shows the raging sea but somehow you imagine the sound muted as she shakes her hair and the wings rustle. Robinson uses the blank space in the pictures to add to the sense of distance and unreality. As below.

 

 

 

He also uses blocks of black to convey the mood.

 

This makes the coloured prints leap out as in this scene of lush foliage, water, and a temple.

 

The major  characters are visible, but sometimes seem like features in the landscape.

Oberon, casting his spell while Titania sleeps, accompanied by a pair of perturbed lesser fairies.

Puck squatting on an overgrown pillar.

 

And Bottom. Here again, at a distance we see. We see his companions retreating at the sight of his transformation.

 

 

Later, he sleeps and Titania seems quite content with her new companion.

 

 

Robinson’s lesser fairies, like Rackham’s,  also look like a different species but don’t have any of the repellent qualities of his insect-like creatures.

The forest of the play is a dream landscape of ruined temples, broken columns and obelisks around which the fairies play.

 

 

An almost science fiction book cover image of an overgrown landscape around a temple as the fairies stream past.

 

 

And Puck says goodnight.

 

Postscript

Taking my cue from the pictures my comments have been quite minimal. I’m posting late this week because as sometimes happens the post stalled about half way through and I had to wait for inspiration. Inspiration didn’t quite come so I fell back on the pictures. You can always rely on them. Next week, inspiration might arrive, or (whisper it), Isabel’s latest post might be ready. Either way there will be something here for you to look at.

Thanks again, for the final time, to Peter Collins for loaning a copy of this wonderful book.

 


Rackham and Shakespeare: mortal fools, offending shadows

I know it was Shakespeare’s year last year (400 years – I suppose waiting for 500 might be asking too much) so I’m a little late celebrating by continuing this series of posts featuring illustrations to Shakespeare plays by some of the great artists of the pre-WW1 golden age of book illustration. But let’s not stand on ceremony.

The last pair of posts featured the Hugh Thomson As you like it and the Heath Robinson Twelfth Night. (I started much earlier in the year with Edmund Dulac’s the Tempest.) I couldn’t leave this subject without devoting a post to Arthur Rackham’s illustrated version of A midsummer night’s dream, Shakespeare’s other “magical” play.

This was another in a series of illustrated Shakespeare texts mostly published by Hodder and Stoughton and like Thomson’s Merry Wives of Windsor it was published by Heinemann in  a similar format with 40 colour plates and many other monochrome illustrations and decorations. Rackham agreed to do the pictures in 1906 when he was also working on a set of illustrations for J M Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, another work which features Rackham’s unique perspective on fairies.

Rackham’s conception of fairies seems initially to be that they are inhabitants of the natural world at the same level as insects.

He sees them competing with small animals, like creatures which crawl through the undergrowth, infesting the trees like a fungus or a parasite. (You can see some  more of his fairy-insect action here)

As always with Rackham the trees are a presence in themselves, often grotesque and threatening.

In this image you see spiders, caterpillars, an anthropomorphic beetle, worms, something which looks like a scorpion, along with a surprised hedgehog, a snake and a crow (or is that a rook?) above an ethereal crowd of fairies.

But at the same time the fay take other forms, larger and more like humans.

Titania and Oberon,ill met by moonlight.  Rackham noted that Shakespeare’s fantasy was “full of the wildest anachronisms…Titania seems to have been entirely (his) own creation, but Oberon is doubtless drawn from the German Erl King, whilst Puck was never know in classical times”

One of the best ideas (I nearly wrote explanations but then realised that might not be the right word) of the nature of fairies and the worlds they live in comes from John Crowley’s 1981 fantasy novel “Little, Big”. One of the characters says this:

Paracelsus is of the opinion that the universe is crowded with powers, spirits, who are not quite immaterial – whatever that means or meant, perhaps made of some finer. less tangible stuff than the ordinary world. They fill up the air and the water and so on; they surround us on every side, so that at our every movement we displace thousands…..

……The difference observed in size is another matter. What are the differences? In their sylphlike or pixie manifestation they appear no bigger than a large insect or a hummingbird; they are said to inhabit the woods, they are associated with flowers. Droll tales are spun of their spears of locust-thorns and their chariots of nut-shells drawn by dragonflies, and so on. In other instances, they can appear to be a foot to three feet in height, wingless, fully-formed little men and women of more human habits. And there are fairy maidens and warriors on great steeds, banshees and pookahs and ogres who are huge, larger by far than men.

The explanation is that the world inhabited by these beings is not the world we inhabit. It is another world entirely, and it is enclosed within this one; it is in a sense a universal retreating mirror image of this one……I mean by this that the other world is composed of a series of concentric rings, which as one penetrates deeper into the other world, grow larger. The further in you go the bigger it gets. Each perimeter of this series of concentricities encloses a larger world within, until at the centre point, it is infinite

Hence the title, Little,Big. I had to  edit  that  passage down a bit. But I think it provides a rationale for the fairies of folklore and fiction. Here they are again, flowing like water through the trees with faces.

Fairies are fond of tricks of course and the trick played on Titania by Oberon is one of the most celebrated in literature.The transformation of Botttom into a creature with an ass’s head looks to modern eyes like an instance of body horror reminiscent perhaps (if you’ve got a mind like mine) to Jeff Goldblum’s metamorphosis in Cronenberg’s The Fly. (Another insect connection.)

Titania’s acceptance of the new flesh is also reminiscent of Cronenburg.

Let’s stay with the human characters for now. Here is Helena:

 

She’s dressed for classical Greece but Rackham also reminds us of the play’s setting in Shakespeare’s own times.

Hermia looks all set for another woodland drama.

 

Like some of Thomson’s Shakespearean characters she could get away with that outfit in a modern high street.

Also like Thomson, Rackham shows us some sleeping al fresco.

Ministering to the sleepers we mustn’t forget Rackham’s slightly androgynous Puck.

“What fools these mortals be..”

In the end, with Titania and Oberon reconciled, the two pairs of human lovers are prepared to wake up and forget the world of dreams.

As far as they can.

Rackham’s biographer Derek Hudson says “Rackham cast his spell over the play: his drawings superseded the work of all his predecessors…..his gnarled trees and droves of fairies have represented the visual reality of the play for thousands of readers.” He quotes William de Morgan who described MND as “the most splendid illustrated work of the century so far.” (although it was only 1908).

 

Postscript

We haven’t finished with Shakespeare’s fairies yet, because at the same time as borrowing the Rackham book from our good friends at Westminster Central Reference Library (Thanks again to Peter Collins) I also took the opportunity to look at another illustrated version of MND, by William Heath Robinson created for Constable in 1914. I know some people who read the Twelfth Night post were pleasantly surprised by Robinson’s dark view of the play. He has his own take on MND too, which we’ll come to in the next week or so.

If you’ve never read John Crowley’s Little, big (1981), don’t hang about, read it. Anyone who liked Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell should love it.

I found the quote from Rackham in James Hamilton’s excellent book Arthur Rackham: a life with illustration (1990). Derek Hudson’s Arthur Rackham : his life and work (Heinemann 1960) is also excellent.

For another fairy narrative look here.

 

 


Thomson and Goldsmith

Regular readers of the blog will know that I’ve developed something of an obsession with the Irish artist and book illustrator Hugh Thomson and I’ve featured his work in a large number of posts since I first came across the 1903 edition of Fanny Burney’s novel Evelina and was fascinated by the illustrations. Since then we’ve looked at some of his “big books” – Quality Street, the Admirable Crichton (JM Barrie), School for Scandal (Sheridan), As you like it (Shakespeare), as well as the Highways and Byways series (London), and his illustrations to the poetry of his friend Austin Dobson. As a fan of his work I’ve graduated from looking through the Library’s collection, borrowing books from my colleagues at Westminster and even buying a few (relatively) cheap editions on Ebay. This post won’t be  the last time you’ll hear about Thomson but the book featured today is the last of the “big books” that I really wanted to see. It’s the 1905 edition of Oliver Goldsmith’s celebrated comedy “She stoops to conquer”.

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Kate and Constance, protagonists of the main story and the sub plot respectively. “Tell me Constance, how do I look this evening?” How Kate looks is one of the themes of the play. She dresses modestly to please her father, fashionably to please herself and she adopts the dress and persona of a maid to win the heart of Mr Marlow, her father’s choice of husband.

Marlow is a little diffident with young women of his own class but rather more relaxed with women he perceives to be lower class. Here is Kate with Mr Hardcastle.

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“Well my dear I see you have changed your dress as I bid you.”

Below, she asks for the maid Pimple’s view of the outfit.

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“Tell me Pimple, how do you like my present dress?” Note the bundle of keys to indicate her role as housekeeper.

As a fashionable young lady her attitude to Mr Marlow is quite combative and he seems a little intimidated.

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“You were about to observe, Sir?”

He loosens up when he thinks she is a maid.

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“(I) never saw such a sprightly malicious eye.”

I should add that her stepbrother Tony Lumpkin has convinced Marlow and his friend Hastings that they are staying at an inn when they come to the Hardcastle house. Kate is playing up to this, even though she thinks Tony is an idiot. (Which he is.)

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His mother intends that he should marry Kate’s friend Constance but he prefers the barmaid at the local inn where he carouses with some low companions. (That may be her serving the drinks.)

Mr Marlow’s behaviour gets a little out of hand.

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And there are, inevitably, tears shed.

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“By Heavens she weeps”. Mr Marlow learns his lesson.

Tony takes some stick from Constance.

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But he does help her to get together with the man she loves, Marlow’s friend Hastings, after a subterfuge over some jewelry, leaving himself unencumbered by his mother’s expectations.

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The confusion over the house is resolved by the arrival of Marlow’s father.

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Kate and Marlow are in love.

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So it all works out. This is a comedy of manners so you can expect a pleasant denouement. I can’t help wondering about how it would look if it was staged in the costumes of a later era, when Mr Marlow’s  liking for a woman dressed as a maid would have different connotations, but don’t let me drag 21st century tropes into this. Let’s leave them in an idyllic, idealised version of the 18th century, courtesy of the 20th century eye of Hugh Thomson. It’s fitting that we should come back to the home of Evelina. It was probably Thomson’s favourite period, and it seemed to be much liked by his contemporaries.

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Hugh Thomson himself was not entirely happy with the finished book. He was “bitterly disappointed with the way in which the prints have been killed by the colouring and strength of the border framing them.”   (One reason why I always crop pictures, but the plates look fine to me.) The critics didn’t really notice: “it was clearly ordained from the beginning of time that Goldsmith’s comedy should be illustrated by Mr Hugh Thomson.” and “in the whole of his career Hugh Thomson’s art was never more advanced and developed than at the present time.”

I can’t leave out this picture, another of Thomson’s  favourite subjects, young women moping around, this time with a book.

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“I have seen her and sister cry over a book for an hour together”

Postscript

Oddly enough I can remember studying this one at school. I recall nothing of the lessons except a class read through. This was usually an embarrassing moment in an all boys school and relieved at not getting one of the female roles I momentarily threw off my usual diffidence and read the character of the servant Diggory in my impression of the voice of Arthur Mullard (anyone remember him?) to a certain amount of amusement from my classmates and weary tolerance from the English teacher.

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You’ve already seen a number of links to other posts featuring Thomson’s work. There’s just one more for you which overlaps with this one and several others but it has enough unrepeated images to interest the completists. As I said I can’t promise this is the last of Thomson (if I ever buy a copy of his version of the Merry Wives of Windsor you can be sure of seeing that one), but it’s very nearly the end. Of course there’s still Cranford, Peg Woffington, Scenes from Clerical Life, not to mention all of Jane Austen’s novels. And Goldsmith’s novel The Vicar of Wakefield. I was hoping to have a look at Norma Clarke’s new book “Brothers of the quill: Oliver Goldsmith in Grub Street” before publishing this post but the library hasn’t got it yet and I’m waiting for some more information on the post I originally intended for this week so Mr Thomson has jumped in to help out

One of the pleasures of writing a blog is to follow the things that interest you as far as you can in the hope that readers will also be interested. You can’t hope to make other people interested in a topic without being interested in it yourself. Expect a flurry of posts about book illustration in the near future but If you’re not as fascinated by the subject as I am don’t worry. plenty of other things will be coming along soon. That’s why I enjoy my day job. You never know what questions you will be asked today.


Thomson and Shakespeare: into the woods

We had a look recently at a Shakespeare comedy through the eyes of W Heath Robinson and saw a dark and fantastic view of the play. This week we’re back in lighter territory with Hugh Thomson’s illustrations for As you like it. (1909)

The play is another of those stories where the heroine takes on a male identity. There is even more confusion and a greater number of frustrated lovers in the play than in Twelfth Night and at the end Rosalind gathers them all together like a drawing room detective not to name the killer but to marry them: herself and Orlando, her best friend Celia and Orlando’s brother Oliver, a pair called Phebe and Silvius and the clown/fool Touchstone with a girl called Audrey. It all takes place in the Forest of Arden, a sort of rural paradise setting, and although there is some actual danger and threat from time to time the story has plenty of scope for Thomson’s favourite subjects and places: attractive young women, foolish young men in a rural setting.

At the start of the play he depicts a kind of classical / medieval scene with several pictures of Rosalind and Celia. Here they join the crowd watching the wrestling.

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The two friends wear ethereal / angelic robes (Celia is the dark haired one) and they live in some kind of ornamental garden. Italian gardens were already familiar to contemporary British and American readers. The novelist Edith Wharton had written a book about them with photographs and illustrations by the artist Maxfield Parrish (1904). We saw some of those big urns in the post about Twelfth Night.

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Rosamund and Celia look particularly attractive in this picture as they bid farewell to Orlando. Rosalind is about to be banished and Celia to accompany her into the Forest of Arden. They opt to change their clothes and adopt new identities as they go on the lam, into the woods.

Here they are in their disguises with Touchstone, the clown/fool of the play, looking already tired out by the exertions of their flight. “O Jupiter, how weary are my spirits.”(Rosalind)

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And disheveled, in a bohemian sort of way. Celia looks like she could stroll down any 21st century street without causing any time paradoxes. (Actually, according to this article in the Guardian she’s right on trend.)

Thomson was pretty good at depicting characters who are tired, exhausted or just lazing around. (Don’t take my word for it. Look back at some of the other Thomson posts. He loves to draw people resting. As below)

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The shagged out trio are observed by the local animal life.

Below, being tired has shaded into some serious sleeping overlooked by some supernatural characters. Thomson illustrates the line spoken by Rosalind: “Beauty provoketh thieves sooner than gold.” as she decides to become a man for the purposes of their journey.

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Thomson used nymphs, cherubs, satyrs and others in his pictures, especially in the decorative black and white drawings. I’ve put a group of those together.

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In this picture we’re back in that ornamental garden, to illustrate a line from a speech by Jacques. (“If ladies be but young and fair they have the gift to know it.” ) Compare this with Robinson’s pond/fountain in Twelfth Night.

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Still in the woods there is time for some clandestine sneaking around as Rosalind and Celia spot Orlando.

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And then emerge to have a bit of fun with him. Rosalind:”I will speak to him like a saucy lackey and under that habit play the knave with him.”

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Now here are some of the other members of the cast: barefoot Audrey, another wild child, having some goat problems in a picture reminiscent of some of Thomson’s illustrations for the Admirable Crichton (a 20th century look at social identities, among other things).

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And the lovely Phebe, tending to a sizeable flock of sheep. As I may have said before, Thomson was essentially a rural artist, and he loved the chance to depict country life.

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I particularly like the sheep keeping an eye on one of its lambs.

As often happens Phebe falls in love with Rosalind-as-a-boy, scorning Silvius, who is love with her. The sheep find all this quite confusing.

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Below we’re back to the diaphanous gowns with a confused bit of symbolism.

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Rosalind says speaking of the depth of her love for Orlando “..that same wicked bastard of Venus that was begot of thought, conceived of spleen and born of madness, that blind rascally boy that abuses everyone’s eyes because his own are out, let him be judge how deep I am in love.”

As usual, Thomson has wandered off from the main thrust of the plot in the last section of the play. (He’s not the only artist who does this. Is it a kind of “no spoilers” policy, or has he lost interest?). Touchstone calls upon two pages belonging to the exiled Duke. “Come sit, sit, and a song”. His own intended, Audrey sits with them.

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The song they sing is a well known one: “It was a lover and his lass…”

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Like Robinson, Thomson ends with a clown’s song. He declines the opportunity to show us the goddess Hymen who officiates at the multi-character wedding.

It’s a good picture but I wasn’t satisfied with it as a finale. So I saved this final colour plate for you from the first act. Imagine Rosalind and Celia, still best friends, back in the decorative grounds of that villa wearing their white robes and still looking pretty decorative themselves.

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So that’s our end. And here is the title page, where mischievous minor supernatural entities, one rural and one a bit more urban, meet for a closing tune.

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Postscript

I think that “As you like it” is one of Thomson’s most successful projects. There are 40 colour prints in all in the book so it’s well worth having a look at.

The second part of the title of this post is of course a reference to the Buffy episode where she breaks up with Riley, rather than the Sondheim musical.

Thomson’s work on the Merry Wives of Windsor is also pretty good. You can see a few of the pictures here.

We never got around to mentioning “All the world’s a stage” etc. But then Thomson didn’t choose to illustrate it either.

I’m resolved to leave Thomson alone for a couple of months. We may return to Shakespeare. But I have set aside some pictures from another Thomson book for a near Christmas post


Robinson and Shakespeare: dark humours

Back in February, in the post on Edmund Dulac’s illustrations for The Tempest, I promised a series of posts based on individual volumes in the Hodder and Stoughton series of special editions of Shakespeare plays from the first decade of the 20th century. It’s 400 years since Shakespeare’s birth, which is a round number but not especially significant. Except of course none of us are going to be around for the 500th anniversary, so we might as well make the most of the 400th. A few technical issues have interrupted my plans. However, I have now had a look at some more of the books and we can resume with a look at William Heath Robinson’s illustrations to Hodder’s 1908 edition of Twelfth Night.

Robinson is best known for his humorous pictures, children’s books, cartoons and of course the famous complicated contraptions for achieving commonplace purposes. (His name has become an adjective to describe cobbled together gadgets for all kinds of uses from the banal to the serious). Images like this:

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But there was a serious and darker side to his work.

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Robinson has a distinctly gloomy view of Twelfth Night, or what you will (first performed in 1602) as in this view of Duke Orsino alone with his thoughts in a deserted courtyard. “So full of shapes is fancy…”

This view of the lovely Olivia, his intended, being serenaded in song is also quite dark. Olivia’s beauty is glimpsed from a distance. “O when mine eyes did see Olivia first..”

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“If music be the food of love, play on..” The first line of the play

Robinson’s biographer, James Hamilton says “The palette Will has used…is heavily restricted. Deep blues, greens and greys predominate in the moody night scenes, except when relieved by the reds and oranges of sunset. Will’s reading of the play is overcast, and even the relatively few day scenes are in a heavily dappled or otherwise subdued light….”

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Over the page from the Duke’ first speech he is informed by Valentine that “The element itself, till seven years’ heat, shall not behold her face at ample view: but like a cloistress she will veiled walk”. Robinson depicts that line, showing Olivia as a Gothic heroine gliding over another checkerboard floor.  The pillars are highly decorated but the colours are sombre.

Nature is equally bleak. On the shore the  shipwrecked Viola utters the famous words: “What country, friends, is this?” before she decides to disguise herself as a boy.

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Hamilton looks at a contemporary review in the TLS and describes Robinson illustrating “a stage production… rather than the action”, as below when the servant Maria introduces herself.

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But at the same time there is a fantastic element in Robinson’s pictures which take the setting right away from the stage like the one below with its soaring trees and clouds, and brighter colours. (Although you could also see the frames in front of painted scenery.)

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Robinson used an architectural frame several times in this set of pictures. Below, Feste the clown/jester, clearly Robinson’s favourite character, sits on a table amongst the glasses and jugs while one of the other cast members rests his head.

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Framed again, he sets to work entertaining a subdued group of guests with a song. “Come away, come away, Death.” An indistinct fountain is in the background.

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I, as you know, am just here for the pictures. Here is another brooding landscape. “I am slain by a fair and cruel maid.” (the same song)

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The story of Twelfth Night is another of those comedies of confusion.Viola is shipwrecked, loses track of her brother, disguises herself as a boy, takes service with the Duke who is supposed to marry the lovely Olivia. Viola falls for the Duke, Olivia falls for Viola as a boy. This must have been endlessly entertaining for the original audience in the days when the female parts were played by men. A man acting as a woman who is pretending to be a man. So, plenty of gender tomfoolery and a love triangle. And of course the steward Malvolio gets tricked into wearing yellow cross garters to impress Olivia and making a fool of himself. Ha ha.

Here is Olivia, temporarily unveiled:

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“But we will draw the curtain and show you the picture”

And the disguised Viola looking uncertain what to do next.

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 “O time though must untangle this not I.”

Robinson seem to have seen the play as a dark sort of comedy. Below, Feste and Viola engage in banter by the side of a fountain.

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For me. Robinson is something of a cinematographer in the way he sets up “shots”. Look at this one as an example of the way he worked with light and shade and the placement of characters. Not to mention a quality of picturesque decay. (the picture above, of Viola is another example.)

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Generally speaking he avoids the big moments in the drama. But here is Malvolio in those those famous cross garters. Is Maria containing her mirth?

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And here is a lovely aerial shot as though Robinson’s camera was sneaking up on the two characters.

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For Malvolio it all ends badly of course, even bleakly. “They here propertied me; keep me in darkness.”

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Robinson does give us another colourful picture where again the figures are secondary to the giant urns. Olivia and Sebastian (Viola’s brother – sorry for not mentioning him so far) have married, or are about to marry. (Viola and Sebastian look quite alike it seems, causing yet more confusion.). There is a happy ending in which both couples are together and they even remember to let Malvolio out of the dark room. (Although he isn’t very grateful).

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After which in the last section of the book Robinson devotes all the illustrations to Feste and it’s pretty much gloom till the end. Robinson was a great lover of music and performing so it’s not surprising that he should choose to illustrate a line from one of the famous songs in the play- “the rain it raineth every day”

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Although Feste is laughing it looks more like a manic laugh than one of unrestrained merriment. But that looks positively happy compared to this picture.

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” Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gates”. It looks like we’ve wandered into King Lear.

So, although Robinson was one of the great book illustrators of his day it seems that his talents weren’t quite right for Shakespearian comedy. There are some striking images in the book, including several I haven’t space to show and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in Robinson. He later did some magnificent pictures for A Midsummer Night’s Dream which better suited his sense of the fantastic. We may come to them sometime in the future. But in truth, this post has been for me a curtain raiser for some illustrations to that other cross dressing comedy, As You Like It, by this blog’s favourite illustrator Hugh Thomson. We’ll see those soon.

Postscript

This is also a chance for me to remind you about the 2016 London History Festival. Along with the 6 main events between the 14th and the 24th November we have a Shakespearian prologue on November 10th in which Benet Brandreth talks about his novel The Spy of Venice.

Our final event on November 28th is a timely talk by historian Philip Mansel on the history of Aleppo. Details at:

https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/libraries/london-history-festival

and: www.londonhistoryfestival.com

I quoted from the excellent William Heath Robinson by James Hamilton (Pavilion Books 1995)

 


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