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Posted in Art, Artist, Famous artists, Historical articles, History, Illustrators, News, Politics, Royalty on Friday, 21 February 2014
This edited article about British art first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 562 published on 21 October 1972.
‘Clever Juvenile (loq.) "Shakespeare? Pooh! For my part, I consider Shakespeare a very much over-rated man"’ – Punch cartoon by John Leech
France was first in the field of social and political magazine journalism, with the magazines, “La Caricature” and “Le Charivari.” Britain was quick to seize upon a good thing.
“Punch, or the London Charivari” was born in 1841, and was directly inspired, as its sub-title suggests, by the French satirical weekly. In fact, however, “Punch” was predated by the “Monthly Sheet of Caricatures,” a lithographed journal put out by publisher Thomas McLean as early as 1830. John Doyle was the best of McLean’s artists, a statement which says much for the decline of the British political and satirical cartoon since the heady days of Gillray and of Cruikshank. John Doyle was a dull portrait painter who turned to producing dull cartoons of the statesmen of his day, in situations that made trite and stuffy comment on some political happening or other. It was a long cry from the acid pens of the great caricaturists of yesteryear.
By the mid-19th century and the coming of “Punch,” wood-engraving had begun to take over from copper-plate etching as a means of large-scale graphic reproduction. Cruikshank’s cartoons were worked directly on to the copper plate by the artist himself. But not every draughtsman had this special skill. Moreover, printing from a block is altogether cheaper than printing from an etching; so it was that a whole generation of new craftsmen appeared; professional wood-engravers, who did nothing but transfer other men’s drawings onto engraved blocks of wood for printing. Some of these engravers were good (one of the best was Edward Whymper, the first man to climb the Matterhorn), and some were not so good. The difference between the good and the not so good accounts for the flat, dull and “wooden” appearance of so much of the graphic work of the period. Thumb through any illustrated book or magazine of the period, and you will see it for yourself.
John Leech was a caricaturist in the great tradition; indeed he collaborated with George Cruikshank at one stage, and his style of drawing and choice of subjects greatly resembled those of the older artist.
It was Leech who first applied the word “cartoon” in its modern meaning, and it happened this way. In 1843, there was a big exhibition of designs submitted for the frescoes to be painted on the walls of the new Houses of Parliament, and these were correctly called “cartoons,” as finished working drawings had been so-called since the days of the Old Italian masters.
Finding most of the Houses of Parliament cartoons to be pretentious and ludicrous, Leech satirised them in a series of “cartoons” of his own. The name stuck, and remains stuck to this day, to this particular type of work.
Though he never attempted the grotesque excesses of Gillray, nor the near-criminal libellings of Cruikshank during his period with “The Scourge,” John Leech was a caricaturist who believed in giving his subjects a rough ride. He attacked the Prime Minister, Lord Russell, for his handling of the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill, in a cartoon that was said to have contributed to Russell’s subsequent fall from power.
He reserved his strongest venom, however, for foreigners, especially the French. He attacked Louis Napoleon on many occasions. Thanks largely to his efforts, “Punch” was twice banned from France.
His dislike of foreigners did not blind Leech to the shortcomings of his own people. When the British government’s treatment of Little Greece exceeded the bounds of the precepts taught on the playing fields of Eton, he drew Mr Punch holding an extremely sneaky-looking lion by the ear and saying: “Why don’t you hit someone your own size?”
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Posted in Art, Artist, Famous artists, Historical articles, History, Illustrators, London on Thursday, 20 February 2014
This edited article about British art first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 560 published on 7 October 1972.
Ridicule is a powerful weapon. James Gillray discovered this when he followed William Hogarth as a major British cartoonist. The period which came after them was one of the richest and liveliest in the history of caricature. Like all important epochs, the period was memorable for a very large number – about fifty or sixty – of very competent practitioners, and one or two giants who bestrode all the rest like giants. And the two giants who followed after poor James Gillray were Thomas Rowlandson and George Cruikshank.
Thomas Rowlandson was the son of a London merchant. He had a straightforward art education at the Royal Academy and in Paris. With the kind of talent he had for recording the English landscape, young Tom might well have been remembered alongside Gainsborough and Constable. But, as in so many cases, including the case of Hogarth, he turned to commercial draughtsmanship to keep himself fed and clothed. Also to support his passion for gambling, which was nearly his ruination.
In his political cartoons, he consciously aped the style and bite of Gillray; but, unlike the earlier master, he was not a politically-minded person; he was an observer of the passing scene of life about him, and this he recorded with honesty and affection.
Do not look to Rowlandson for an insight into the obscure and involved political set-ups of the late eighteenth century; but, rather, for a pictorial journalist’s view of the rollicking life of the taverns and the docks, and in dance halls and pleasure gardens. His pen dealt with a wide cast of people, particularly women, whom he loved dearly: all kinds of women, from overblown fishwives, to delicate misses in crinolines. He drew them all, even at their most outrageous, without any venom.
He had a masterly eye for a crowd scene. He would have made a splendid film director. This shows best in his large drawings of processions, and in his coloured drawing of an evening entertainment in Vauxhali gardens – surely his tour de force.
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Posted in America, Art, Artist, Birds, Famous artists, Historical articles, Illustrators, Nature, Wildlife on Monday, 3 June 2013
This edited article about John Audubon originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 277 published on 6 May 1967.
John James Audubon, bird naturalist
With a sketch pad on his knees, the artist sat on a fallen log and began drawing. He wore the fringed buckskins of a North American backwoodsman, and his possessions, including his painting materials, were in a pack beside him.
For days he had been tramping through endless forest which had only previously been explored by wandering Redskins. Now he felt he was being rewarded for the hardships he had undergone as his pencil point deftly outlined a bird which he had never set eyes on before.
A keen love of nature, an ability to paint and a determination never to give up were the qualities which made John Audubon one of the greatest wildlife artists the world has ever known.
The son of a French naval officer, John Audubon was born at Mandeville in Louisiana, USA, on 5th May, 1780. Because of his father’s nationality, he was sent to Paris for his education. Here he realised that he wished to become an artist and he began to study painting under the most famous artist of the day, J. L. David, who specialised in vast pictures of historical subjects.
Money was short, and after a while John had to give up his studies and return to America, where he was forced to become a farmer.
It was a far cry from David’s fashionable studio to Pennsylvania, where the would-be artist was trying to eke out a living. But his desire to paint remained. If John could not work on huge canvasses, at least he could still draw on small sketch pads. And if he could not afford to hire beautifully costumed models, at least he could draw the birds which he saw every day round his farm.
And so John Audubon’s true career began.
It became his ambition to make a picture record of all the birds of North America. Leaving his farm for weeks on end, he would search the trackless forests for new specimens to draw.
Years went by and the collection of beautifully tinted drawings grew. Because of neglect, the artist’s farm did not do very well, and sometimes the Audubon family had very little to eat. Yet John’s wife never complained because her husband was less efficient than the other farmers of the district. She knew him to be an exceptional artist and she believed that one day the world would recognise him as such.
In 1826, the unknown farmer from Pennsylvania scraped up enough money for a one-way fare to England and took with him his collection of bird pictures.
People in Britain who saw his sketches were enthusiastic, so when Audubon returned home, he began putting his great work together.
When his Birds of America was finally published, it contained 435 coloured plates and 1055 life-size figures of birds. The work caused a sensation throughout the publishing world, and today these volumes are very valuable.
With this success behind him, Audubon went on to his second book, Quadrupeds of North America, in which he was helped by his sons, who seemed to have inherited his flair for nature drawing. This book was published three years after his death, which occurred on 27th January, 1851.
Posted in Art, Artist, Famous artists, Historical articles, History, Illustrators on Tuesday, 28 May 2013
This edited article about Kate Greenaway originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 270 published on 18 March 1967.
Greetings card by Kate Greenaway
“What are you doing up so early?” the man asked as a small girl tiptoed into the kitchen.
Outside it was still dark and foggy and he was exhausted after working through the night on an etching for a London newspaper.
“I went to bed with my clothes on so I could cook you a breakfast,” replied little Kate Greenaway. As she prepared the meal, she asked her father about the work he had been doing. Someday she hoped to be an artist like him and these early morning breakfasts with her father – just the two of them together – were the highlights of her childhood.
When she grew older Kate Greenaway, who was born in London on 17th March, 1846, did become a professional artist. She designed Valentine and Christmas cards. She tried to write verses for them too, but her employer bluntly told her that these were “rubbish and without any poetic feeling.”
This harsh criticism did not deter Kate. She was confident she could draw and write and in her spare time she produced a book of children’s poems.
The publisher who saw it was delighted. Until then children’s books had been very crude, but Kate brought real art into her work and this was proved by the fact her pictures were later hung in the Royal Academy.
The book sold faster than the presses could print it. Kate’s pictures of children in it enchanted adults as much as the young readers. Kate used real children to base her pictures on, while the backgrounds were built on experiences from her own happy childhood.
After this success in 1879 Kate was able to give up the Christmas cards and concentrate on more book illustration. These books caused a revolution in publishing for children and many other artists tried to copy Kate’s style. They never quite succeeded and the Kate Greenaway books became so popular round the world that Victorian fashions in children’s clothes were based on them. Generations of little girls wore “Kate Greenaway frocks,” even in Japan where the books were translated.
All through her busy life Kate continued to capture the happiness of children in her delicate drawings. She died on 6th November, 1901, but since then her work has been reissued and still continues to give pleasure.
Posted in America, Art, Artist, Famous artists, Historical articles, History, Illustrators on Thursday, 15 November 2012
This edited article about painters originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 785 published on 29th January 1977.
The blanket Indian – an illustration for the Boy’s Own Paper
by Stanley L Wood
Back in 1879, the Boy’s Own Paper first appeared and at once conquered countless young Victorians. It contained a profusion of articles together with superbly illustrated, rip-roaring tales of high adventure. And always a great favourite among the readers of the Boy’s Own Paper were the tales of adventure in the Wild West of America which were, more often than not, illustrated by Richard Caton Woodville and Stanley L. Wood.
These two artists knew and understood the West better than any other English artists before or since.
‘The cowboy of today is only a very mild specimen of what he was – thanks to civilisation, barb-wire fences, the coming of the sheepmen into his country and the Millionaire Beef Trusts. These have all helped to kill the old-time cowboy, and to turn him into a sort of glorified farmhand.’
So began Stanley L. Wood’s article on ‘The Cowboy – in Fact and Fiction’ dor the Boy’s Own Paper of March 1923. He tells of the reason behind every article of the cowboy’s dress and the harness of his horse – the double-cinch saddle with its big iron leather-covered horn and broad, high cantle and its big, wide stirrups hanging far back on their wide leathers; the great, blunt spurs; the ‘chaps’ or chaparajos; the wide-brimmed, high-crowned hat; the long, yellow oil-skin which the cowboy wore in the rain and which he called his ‘slicker’; the lasso or, as the cowboy always called it, the rope.
It would have been obvious to all the boys reading Wood’s article in 1923 that this man knew what he was talking about. He was talking from personal experience when he wrote:
‘When you ride, eat, smoke and sleep in your blankets beside him – as you watch and take part in his daily work – you find that everything the cowboy wears and everything he uses is just as essential and just as suited to his life and calling as is a fountain pen to a clerk, or a paint brush to an artist.’
The drawings accompanying the article – not to mention the full-colour painting that appeared on the cover – are masterly and worthy of the great Frederic Remington himself.
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Posted in Animals, Art, Artist, Historical articles, History, Illustrators on Friday, 2 November 2012
This edited article about Louis Wain originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 777 published on 4th December 1975.
At the end of the Victorian era, no child’s Christmas was complete without a Louis Wain Annual. No nursery or bedroom was without at least one of his amusing and beautifully drawn pictures of cats, dressed as people getting up to all sorts of antics. Sadly, the man who gave so much happiness, amusement and happiness to so many children, was not blessed with a happy life.
He was born on August 5, 1860, and was followed by five sisters. He was afflicted with a harelip which made him a shy and withdrawn boy, and his only real pleasure came from drawing and painting. In 1877, he decided to make use of his talent for art to enter college. He was so successful that he became a lecturer at the college – the West London School of Art – in 1881.
Shortly after this, Louis Wain had the pleasure of seeing his work in print for the first time. His drawing was of chaffinches, and appeared in the Christmas number of the “Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News.” Unfortunately, an editorial error marred his superbly accurate picture, which appeared captioned as “The Robins’ Breakfast.”
Although the mistake gave Wain a great deal of embarrassment it did not prevent him from doing more work for the journal. In fact, he was so successful that he was able to give up his teaching job in 1882 and join the magazine’s staff as one of their full-time team of artists.
Only one year later, he had his first drawings of cats published.
In 1884, Louis Wain fell in love with Emily Richardson, who had been employed in the Wain household as a governess. His own family were greatly opposed to the match, as Emily was some ten years older than Louis – an extremely unusual situation in Victorian England, when the average husband was four or five years older than the average wife.
Sadly, the happiness of their marriage was to be short-lived. Not long after the wedding. Emily became ill, and finally died childless in 1887. The effects of this tragedy on Louis Wain were almost incalculable. Although he was fast becoming something of a celebrity in the art world, he began to look increasingly inwards. It was as though all of his self-confidence had died with Emily, and his family became the centre of his life.
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Posted in America, Discoveries, Exploration, History, Illustrators, Ships, Travel on Sunday, 17 June 2012
This edited article about Ferdinand Magellan originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 731 published on 17 January 1976.
Magellan’s fleet is prepared for the long and difficult journey by Severino Baraldi
One moment, the sea was calm and the sky clear. The next, a violent wind was howling down upon the ships and a waterfall of rain was drumming on to the decks. The terrified crews clung to the saturated ropes and rigging, while the sea convulsed about them. The coast they had been following for the last ten months disappeared from sight as if wiped out by magic. Now all that could be seen were swirling swathes of rain.
Ferdinand Magellan cursed his bad luck. The storm had struck at the worst possible time. It had been difficult enough to maintain discipline and keep his crews sailing on down the unfamiliar coast of South America, probing every small inlet for a passage that might lead from the Atlantic to the Pacific ocean.
Every day, there had been superstitious rumblings about the sea monsters and tumbling off the world’s edge and the wrath of God that would strike them dead for venturing where Man had no right to be.
Now, on October 21, 1520, just when his ships had entered a bay which Magellan was convinced contained the long-sought interocean strait, this terrible storm seemed to justify all those fears and fantasies.
Ferdinand Magellan was not the first, nor the last, explorer to find himself in this infuriating situation. Most crews on most ships which discovered the world in the 15th and 16th centuries reacted to their task in a mood of terror and trepidation. It was understandable, for they were accustomed to smoother, shorter, more easily navigable voyages in European waters. By contrast, ocean exploration exposed them to mightier currents, stronger winds, more violent storms and immeasurably greater distances.
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Posted in Artist, Arts and Crafts, Famous artists, Famous Inventors, Historical articles, History, Illustrators, Science on Thursday, 15 March 2012
This edited article about Josiah Wedgwood originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 664 published on 5 October 1974.
Josiah Wedgwood and Thomas Bentley make six black vases by C L Doughty
Imagine them as frontiersmen, as pioneers, as Empire-builders, these businessmen/inventors of the 18th century, tough men, men with razor sharp minds and so full of ambition that they could overcome every obstacle.
There was Richard Arkwright, the ex-barber who experimented with cotton-spinning machines and invented a “water frame” run by water power. There was Brindley the canal builder, who worked himself to death. And there were other men who helped forge the Industrial Revolution. Of these, Josiah Wedgwood was perhaps the most ambitious of them all and in many ways the most successful, for his name, thanks to his pottery, is still a household word.
And what did Mr Wedgwood aim to do? He once wrote it down like this: “I hope to astonish the world all at once.” And how did he intend to do this? By working night and day to become vase-maker to the universe.
This big thinker and doer was born into a family of potters in Burslem, Staffordshire, in 1730, the youngest of twelve children. He was apprenticed to the family trade from the age of 14 to 19, and by 1759 he was his own master, renting from relations a cottage, two kilns, and workshops and sheds, and, once established, he mixed clays and designed pottery better than any of his workmen. He knew the trade inside out. Soon he was in bigger premises and making history with his cream-coloured earthenware.
Already on the market was expensive plate for the rich, a certain amount of pewter and also porcelain which was too delicate. Wedgwood, by using ground flint and easily-shaped Devon ball clay, then covering the result with a hard lead glaze, revolutionised the pottery trade, for soon his wares were being bought by rich and poor alike for their looks, ease of manufacture which brought the price down, and ability to withstand sudden violent temperature changes.
Yet he was so much more than a master potter. He fought to have roads improved linking the potteries with the rest of the country, and by 1765, when he was married and famous, he became a champion of the new canal-building industry, going, as usual to the top man in the trade, Richard Brindley, then lobbying Parliament to authorise more and better canals. He was a living dynamo.
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Posted in Architecture, British Cities, British Towns, Historical articles, History, Illustrators, London, Royalty on Tuesday, 28 February 2012
This edited article about architecture originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 654 published on 27 July 1974.
A contemporary caricature of John Nash perched on the spire of All Saints, Langham Place, by George Cruikshank
John Nash was the son of an engineer and millwright, born in London in 1752. After ten years as an architect in the office of Sir Robert Taylor, Nash set up his own business but went bankrupt in 1783.
Soon, however, Nash established himself as a country house architect and from this period there survive several of his houses; at Southgate Grove, Middlesex; Sunbridge Park, Kent, and Cronkhill, Shropshire.
In 1796 he set up in partnership with a landscape gardener called Humphrey Repton in London, and a few years later obtained the patronage of the Prince Regent (later to become George IV).
He began his major work in 1811. This was the development of Regent’s Park and Regent’s Street as a residential area. This Regent’s Park-Regent’s Street scheme is the most important and best preserved of all the building projects carried out at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century. The curved, sweeping Regent’s Street linked the Prince Regent’s residence, Carlton House, with the centre of Georgian London and was completed in about 1825. Nash’s plan included the Regent’s canal, churches, shops, arcades as well as the magnificent and charming terraced houses in Regent’s Park itself. Nash also built the circular, porticoed church of All Saints in Langham Place, London.
During the two years between 1813 and 1815 he held the post of deputy surveyor general and by that time had become the Prince Regent’s personal architect. Between 1815 and 1823 Nash extended and altered the Royal Pavilion at Brighton in a flamboyant style which cost the enormous sum of £160,000.
In 1821 Nash was instructed to rebuild Buckingham House as a royal palace regardless of expense but his work there was left uncompleted in 1830 when the king died and Nash himself was dismissed. The great architect died on May 13th, 1835, at Cowes.
Posted in Art, Artist, Communications, Historical articles, Illustrators, Technology, Trade on Friday, 10 February 2012
This edited article about posters originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 637 published on 30 March 1974.
An advertising bill poster at work
Whatever happened to the poster? A silly question to ask at the start of the last of this series, some may think, but there is a stark truth behind it. Posters no longer matter as they once did. Advertising tycoons, and the big firms and manufacturers who employ them, prefer television for their campaigns, with newspapers and magazines as their second choice and posters a poor third.
Sometimes this is a good thing. Hoardings covered in posters in our environment-conscious age are often rightly regarded as a form of visual pollution, especially in America, where they sometimes dominate landscapes. One can imagine in a nightmare a huge poster obscuring the best view of the Grand Canyon, screaming at the would-be sightseer: “COME AND STAY AT JOE’S MOTEL.” It could never happen? Not now, perhaps, but a few years ago the rule with hoardings was “Anything goes.”
It has hardly helped the artistic side of posters that photography has taken over so many thousands of hoardings. Many of the pictures are excellent, but in the strict sense of the word, they are not posters.
All is not lost. If posters are less important than they were, they survive on a smaller scale, just as the theatre survived the coming of the cinema and the cinema survived the threat of television. What happens is that the threatened art-form exists on a smaller, and often a better, scale.
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