The Edward Gorey Stamp Campaign

The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust has launched a petition for a postage stamp to honor the artist best known for his whimsical and macabre illustrations:

February 22, 2025 marks the 100th anniversary of Edward Gorey’s birth, and we would like to see it celebrated with a U.S. postage stamp recognizing him as one of America’s most inventive and influential cultural figures. And, we need your help!

Please join the Edward Gorey Charitable Trust and our friends at the Edward Gorey House in our joint campaign for a centennial 2025 Edward Gorey postage stamp. To make this stamp a reality, please consider sending a letter of nomination to the United States Postal Service. To petition USPS for a stamp, we all must send in actual letters on paper at least three years in advance of prospective publication.

You can visit the Trust’s website for instructions on how to support the campaign. Alas, we never had a set of postage stamps designed by Gorey. My photo essay on the artist’s house in Cape Cod can be read here at the blog.

St Lucia’s Day

December 13 is St Lucia’s Day, notably celebrated in the Lutheran countries of Scandinavia, as part of a traditional cycle of observances during the Advent season. The festival honors an early Christian martyr, who died for the faith under Diocletian. The Latin name Lucia means “light.” And because the festival takes place on what was traditionally observed as the shortest day of the year, at the winter solstice, it is marked by symbolism of light and hope in darkness.

The Anglican poet John Donne wrote, “A Nocturnal upon St Lucy’s Day,” around 1627. The first stanza begins:

‘Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;
The world’s whole sap is sunk…

In Sweden each town elects a St Lucia from among the girls. In a household the eldest daughter takes the roll. She wears a white robe and a crown of evergreen boughs surmounted with candles.

Pictured above: an illustration of the headdress by John Bauer, dated 1913.

Into The Wild Wood

Every year I (re-)read Kenneth Grahame’s masterpiece The Wind in the Willows to my children. I favor the Candlewick Press edition illustrated by Inga Moore. It is a slight abridgment, omitting Mole’s and Rat’s encounter with the god Pan in “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.” But this functions as a stand-alone story and can easily be supplemented by reading from another edition (there are several on our bookshelves).

The defining virtue here is Moore’s superlative illustration. She has accomplished precisely what Grahame himself has: a transcendent vision of the English countryside.

An interview with Moore about her illustration of The Wind in the Willows was published by The Guardian in 2010 and can be read on its website.

The Night Cometh

Rudyard Kipling’s father, John Lockwood Kipling, visited his son’s family at Naulakha in Brattleboro, Vermont, in June of 1893, shortly after the house was built. The elder Kipling was an accomplished illustrator and art teacher. His appointment to a professorship in Bombay accounted for the family’s long association with India. He illustrated many of Rudyard Kipling’s novels, including The Jungle Book, which was written in Vermont. One of his most famous illustrations was his son’s ex libris.

During that summer, Lockwood Kipling contributed a number of interesting decorative touches to the house, at least two of which survive. I have been exploring Naulakha, as detailed in my previous post, At Rudyard Kipling’s House. It has been a pleasure to discover—and even to touch—Lockwood’s work, having seen a nicely curated exhibit at the Victoria and Albert in London several years ago.

Above the fireplace in the study, Lockwood inscribed in bas relief a quotation from the King James Bible: “The Night Cometh when No Man can Work.” It comes from John’s Gospel. Jesus tells his disciples: “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.”

Upstairs another example of Lockwood’s art can be found. In the day nursery, now a dressing room connecting two bedrooms, a plaster relief of a cat and two birds adorns a thin panel beside the bay window.

The house is full of remnants left behind by the Kiplings. This includes furniture and framed prints: George Frederic Watts’s Hope, which hangs on the wall of the master bedroom, is original, as are a number of French military prints. Above the desk in Kipling’s study are two Tiffany stained glass windows that light up like the dawn sky. These features can be seen in the earlier post linked above.

The Art of Fu Manchu

Sax Rohmer, writing in The Insidious Dr Fu Manchu (1913):

Imagine a person tall, lean and feline, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull, and long magnetic eyes of the true cat green. Invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect. Imagine that awful being and you have a mental picture of Dr Fu-Manchu.

Rohmer’s yellow peril tales were regularly serialized in America by Collier’s Weekly beginning in the 1910s. These editions were visualized by Collier’s excellent team of in-house illustrators: first Joseph Clement Coll, then John R. Flanagan. Both artists worked in pen and ink, delineating the lurid stories in a style somehow reminiscent of J.C. Leyendecker’s Arrow shirt collar advertisements as well as the future genre of comic book superheroes.

Coll’s illustrations appear above, Flanagan’s below.

Edward Gorey on Cape Cod

In my opinion the high point of television as a medium—even an artform—was the British detective programming of the 1980s through the mid-1990s. I am thinking obviously of Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett and Poirot with David Suchet, but also programs that ran for only one or two series like Campion with Peter Davison and A Dorothy L. Sayers Mystery with Edward Petherbridge and Harriet Walter.

In the United States these programs were broadcast on public television as part of the Mystery! anthology produced by WGBH in Boston. The episodes were introduced in a wrap-around segment by host Vincent Prince, and later Diana Rigg. Anyone who watched Mystery!—especially if they were growing at the time, like me—will inevitably remember the opening credit sequence designed by illustrator Edward Gorey.

At the time that Mystery! premiered in 1980 Gorey was coming off of his greatest commercial success, the 1977 Broadway revival of Dracula, which he designed. (I was born three days after it closed in 1980, but my parents saw it.) 

In 1979 Gorey bought a 200-year old sea captain’s home in Yarmouth, Massachusetts. He had been living in Manhattan where he attended every single performance of the New York City Ballet. After the death of NYCB founder and choreographer George Balanchine in 1983, Gorey moved permanently to Cape Cod. He lived the last seventeen years of his life there and it remains a museum and gallery of his art.

His work on Mystery! is represented in a collection of storyboards and animation cells from the title sequence and a poster for the tenth anniversary in 1990. I think Joan Hickson and Edward Hardwicke appear surprisingly recognizable in the artist’s style.

The Edward Gorey House is open April through December at 8 Strawberry Lane, Yarmouth Port Common.

The Yale Club Bookplate

Howard Pyle was born on this day in 1853. He was the first of the golden age American illustrators, followed by his pupil N.C. Wyeth. Through Pyle a faint Pre-Raphaelite influence came to characterize the genre.

It interested me to discover a work by Pyle that I had seen many times before noticing his initials: the ex-libris of The Yale Club of New York City. Pyle’s design was commissioned in 1905. The plate was engraved by Edwin Davis French, whom Pyle described as “the best engraver in the world.” The ex-libris is affixed to every book in the clubhouse library.

The First Christmas Card

In 1843 Henry Cole sent the first Christmas card. Cole was a British civil servant, later the founding director of the Victoria & Albert Museum. According to an article on the V&A website, he was “instrumental in reforming the British postal system, helping to set up the Uniform Penny Post which encouraged the sending of seasonal greetings on decorated letterheads and visiting cards.”

The same year that Dickens published A Christmas Carol, Cole commissioned a properly Pickwickian illustration by the artist John Callcott Horsley, which he reproduced on 1000 cards. These were “offered for sale at a shilling a piece, which was expensive at the time, and the venture was judged a commercial flop.” Though we now know it was ahead of its time.

Twenty-one copies of the card have survived. One of them is on display at the Charles Dickens Museum in London through April 2020 as part of the exhibition Beautiful Books: Dickens and the Business of Christmas.

Doré in Camelot

From The New Arthurian Encyclopedia, edited by Norris J Lacy:

[Gustave] Doré’s most significant contribution to Arthurian art was his illustration of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. Already famous for his editions of Dante, the Bible, Cervantes, and others, Doré was commissioned by Moxon & Co., Tennyson’s publisher, to provide thirty-six wash drawings for the immensely popular 1859 Idylls, nine for each of Tennyson’s four poems: “Enid,” “Vivien,” “Elaine,” and “Guinevere.” His work was then copied by English steel-engravers rather than being carved into wood blocks, Doré’s usual practice. The illustrated poems were issued separately in folio editions from 1867 to 1868 by Moxon in London and by Hachette in Paris (trans. Fransique Michel). In 1868, the separate editions were gathered into one volume, for which Doré added a frontispiece depicting Tennyson surrounded by his Arthurian characters, with some creatures of Doré’s invention. The illustrations were popular, especially in England, and went through several editions.

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Edyrn with His Lady and Dwarf Journey to Arthur’s Court

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Yniol Shows Prince Geraint His Ruined Castle

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Viviane and Merlin

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Geraint Slays Earl Doorm

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King Arthur Discovering the Skeletons of the Brothers

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The Sea Fight

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The Cave Scene

Doré’s London

From the British Library:

In 1869 the journalist Blanchard Jerrold (1826–1884) joined forces with the famous French artist Gustave Doré (1832–1883) to produce an illustrated record of the ‘shadows and sunlight’ of London. As Jerrold later recalled, they spent many days and nights exploring the capital, often protected by plain-clothes policemen. They visited night refuges, cheap lodging houses and the opium den described by Charles Dickens in the sinister opening chapter of The Mystery of Edwin Drood; they travelled up and down the river and attended fashionable events at Lambeth Palace, the boat race and the Derby. The ambitious project, which took four years to complete, was eventually published as London: a pilgrimage with 180 engravings.

Contemporary critics had severe reservations about the book. Doré disliked sketching in public so there were many errors of detail; it showed only the extremes of society, and Jerrold’s text was superficial. Both were transfixed by the deprivation, squalor and wretchedness of the lives of the poor, even though they realised that London was changing and some of the worst social evils were beginning to be addressed. Despite these criticisms, Doré’s work has become celebrated for its dramatic use of light and shade, and the power of his images to capture the atmosphere of mid-Victorian London.

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An imagined East End slum

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Sir Paul Pindar’s House in Bishopsgate, demolished 1890; the façade is preserved at the Victoria and Albert Museum

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Gower Street station on the London Underground, one of the original Metropolitan Railway stations, opened in 1863; now Euston Square tube station

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An imagined City thoroughfare

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Hampstead Heath

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The stalls, Covent Garden Opera

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The London Docks

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Bluegate Fields in Shadwell

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The Still and Star in Aldagate

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Sleeping rough on London Bridge