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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I have previously noted my affection for the golden-age American illustrator Newell Convers Wyeth (1882-1945). His luminous interpretations of boys’ adventure novels from Treasure Island to The Last of the Mohicans have been imprinted on the imagination of several generations.
Wyeth did his best work illustrating Medieval romances, which is not surprising given that his mentor Howard Pyle specialized in the genre. In 1917 Wyeth followed up his breakthrough edition of Treasure Island with a subject previously popularized by Pyle himself: the adventures of Robin Hood.
The same year Wyeth tackled the great chivalric subject: King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The Boy’s KingArthurwas a loose adaptation of Malory by the American poet Sidney Lanier, first published in 1880.
Today the book is mostly remembered for Wyeth’s illustrations. One can see the lingering influence of the Pre-Raphaelite artists on Wyeth via the Brandywine School where Pyle taught.
In 1922 Wyeth illustrated The Legends of Charlemagne, one of three titles written in the 1850s and 1860s by Thomas Bulfinch, later compiled as Bulfinch’s Mythology. The Legends of Charlemagne collects tales of the twelve Paladins.
The majority of the stories are drawn from the sixteenth century Italian epic Orlando Furioso, which includes many fantastic elements: a sea monster and flying horse among them.
William Morris’s quintessential Victorian wallpaper patterns—lush, verdant, botanical—were printed using simple wood-block presses and a maximum of human craftsmanship. This was in accordance with the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts movement, which he founded, advocating workshops over and against factories.
The Victoria and Albert Museum, which holds a fine collection of Morris prints and textiles, produced a video to demonstrate how Morris’s patterns were (and in some cases still are) printed. The process is painstaking and impressive. Watch below.
Der Orchideengarten (“The Orchid-Garden”) was a German magazine of weird fiction published between 1919 and 1921. Its content was a mixture of new and reprinted stories, many in translation from other languages. It has the distinction of being the first fantasy magazine, appearing four years before the American pulp, Weird Tales.
The entire 51-issue run of Der Orchideengarten has been made available online by the University of Heidelberg. Of interest to non-speakers of German will be the illustrations, many by artists who worked concurrently for Jugend.
A facsimile edition of the first issue in German with English translation is sold by Zagava.
Heinrich Lefler (1863-1919) was arguably the finest of the Austrian artists who developed the Jugendstil at the fin de siècle. He was principally a scenic designer and in that capacity created sets for the Vienna Court Opera under the directorship of Gustav Mahler. He was also a pioneering illustrator. His work is characterized by sacred, chivalric, and fairy-tale themes.
In 1899 he designed the Österreichische KalenderMonatsbilder, a calendar in the Jugendstil, which endures as one of his masterpieces.
In 1900 Lefler founded an artist collective, the Hagenbund, with his brother-in-law Joseph Urban, a fellow stage designer and illustrator. Urban was also an architect. He designed, of all things, Mar-a-Lago. Lefler and Urban were frequent collaborators. They produced illustrations, sets, and public exhibitions, including a parade on the Ringstraßefor the Emperor’s Diamond Jubilee in 1908. In 1900, Lefler and Urban created a beautiful illustrated edition of Die Buecher der Chronika der drei Schwestern (The Book of the Chronicles of the Three Sisters), a fairy tale by Johann Karl August Musäus.
Lefler followed up the ÖsterreichischeMonatsbilder with a fairy-tale calendar featuring one-off illustrations of Cinderella, The Frog Prince, The Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, The Goose Girl, Godfather Death, Hansel and Gretel, Mary’s Child, Rapunzel, Snow-White and Rose-Red, and The Six Swans. This was published in 1905 by Berger & Wirth of Leipzig.
In addition to his illustrations, many of Lefler’s theatrical designs survive. Harvard University owns the most substantial collection, which it acquired from Max Reinhardt. It is kept at Houghton Library.