Archive for the 'Drawing on the Past'

Drawing on the Past #13: G.K. CHESTERTON

Lilly Library (photo by "Vmenkov")
While researching Victor L. Whitechurch, whose books I am currently reading, I came across a fascinating post at the website for Indiana University's Lilly Library which has one of the most remarkable collections of detective and crime fiction in the United States. Back in 1973 the library celebrated the 130th anniversary of the publication of "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" with an exhibit entitled "The First Hundred Years of Detective Fiction, 1841-1941."

Among the books are some other ephemera including the drawing reproduced below.  I've long known of G. K. Chesterton's ability as a sketch artist and cartoonist but never knew that he was commissioned to illustrate an edition of Sherlock Holmes stories. Below is his rendering of the near fatal struggle on the cliffs of the Reichenbach Falls.



The note in the exhibit catalog accompanying this drawing says:
G. K. Chesterton was once commissioned to illustrate the Doyle stories (imagine Father Brown on Sherlock Holmes)! The volume was never published, but Lilly has his sketches, among them the Reichenbach scene, done in blue crayon.
The entire contents of the exhibit along with program notes are posted at the Lilly Library website here.  It's an excellent resource for any devotee of the history of detective fiction. I've already made note of three writers who until I read the catalog I had never heard of. Unfortunately, the exhibit's catalog notes for one of those writers ruined a book for me by revealing the ending.

Drawing on the Past #12 : GEORGE H & WILLIAM L THOMAS

Work: Armadale by Wilkie Collins
(Harper & Brothers, 1866)
1st US edition

Artists: George H Thomas (drawings)
and William Thomas (engraving)

As a teaser for an upcoming review here are the illustrations taken from the original United States edition of Armadale. This mammoth novel was originally published serially in The Cornhill Magazine from November 1864 to June 1866. The illustrations used in both the first UK and US editions were taken from the magazine serial. While the UK first edition includes all the original illustrations by the Thomas brothers the US edition is missing about five drawings.

George Housman Thomas (1824-1867) studied wood engraving with George Bonner, set up an engraving business in Paris, and illustrated books for both American and British publishers. Some of his work is included in the Royal Collection in England. Perhaps his most notable work appeared in the first US edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin. While living in New York for a brief period he was also contracted to engrave American banknotes.

William Luson Thomas (1830-1800) did the engraving and signed all the illustrations for Armadale. George, however, is credited as the primary illustrator on the title page of the first UK edition (Smith & Elder, 1866). William founded the illustrated newspaper The Graphic late in his life. Explaining the original concept of the paper he writes: "The originality of the scheme consisted in establishing a weekly illustrated journal open to all artists, whatever their method, instead of confining my staff to draughtsmen on wood as had been hitherto the general custom… it was a bold idea to attempt a new journal at the price of sixpence a copy in the face of the most successful and firmly established paper in the world, costing then only five pence."

For detailed biographical information on William Luson Thomas go here. For the life of his brother George visit this website.

Click on the images below for full size appreciation.





Drawing on the Past #11: Edwin & Harold Betts

Work: Prince Izon by James Paul Kelly
(A. C. McClurg, 1910)
Listed in 333, a bibliography of lost race, fantasy, super-natural and science fiction works.

Artists:  Harold H. Betts & Edwin Betts, Jr.

One of the many lost race novels that were popular from the late Victorian era through the early 20th century Prince Izon deviates from the usual African and South American tales and instead chooses for its setting the good ol' U S of A. In the story Professor Raymon and his team of explorers, along with their American Indian guide, go in search of a forgotten tribe who are presumed to be living in the Grand Canyon in Arizona.  They get more than they bargained for when they encounter a tribe of Aztec warriors led by the title character.

Harold and Edwin Betts were the sons of Edwin Betts, Sr, a well established artist in Chicago who taught both his sons  and daughter Grace in painting. Edwin Jr. had an exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago in the late 19th century.  Other than that I could find little info about Edwin.  His brother, on the other hand, has a much more prominent presence on the internet.

Harold Betts was an illustrator for magazines and books and an accomplished landscape and portrait painter.  He traveled to the Southwest and began specializing in the Grand Canyon and its environs making him the perfect choice for illustrating Prince Izon. Like Edwin, Harold also showed his paintings at the Art Institute.  A list I found at the U. S. Department of the State website gives the dates of eight different exhibitions at the AIC. Many of Harold's paintings are part of a large collection at the Smithsonian Institute and show he spent time in Rio Grande Pueblos from Taos to Santa Domingo; in Colorado Springs, Colorado; at the Grand Canyon, on the Navajo and Hopi reservations; and in Southern California.

Among the illustrations Betts did for books are Princess Sayrane by Edith Ogden Harrison and Ruth of the USA by Edwin Balmer.  All of the illustrations in Princess Sayrane can be viewed here.  Some of his paintings sold at auction can be seen at ArtFact, LiveAuctioneers, AskArt, and various other sites. Harold Betts' work is collectible and found in numerous galleries and private collections throughout North America and Europe.

Below are the five full color plates found in my copy of Prince Izon.  Two -- the one used for the plate on the cover and the frontispiece battle scene -- are signed by Edwin Betts, the others are by his brother Harold.  Only the battle scene on the cliffside can be enlarged by clicking on the image.







Drawing on the Past #10: GILBERT JAMES

Work: The Five Jars by M.R. James
(Edward Arnold & Co., 1922)

Artist: Gilbert James

The Five Jars is subtitled "Being More or Less of a Fairy Tale Contained in a Letter to a Young Person." Its author M.R. James is better known as a writer of ghost stories for adults. Whether or not the story is truly intended for young people is a matter of opinion. The whimsical drawings by Gilbert James seem to imply that it is. A mix of the fanciful, the creepy, and the bizarre the story would appeal to any reader who appreciates the outre and the supernatural in fiction.

Once available only in its original rare 1st edition or the somewhat scarcer 1927 reprint (a copy of which I own and is pictured above) The Five Jars has been extensively reprinted in a variety of hardback and paperback editions. Numerous POD and eBooks make it even easier for anyone interested in reading the light and fanciful tale.

Below a sampling of the seven illustrations by James.  I found little on the artist other than that he illustrated in full color an edition of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (L. C. Page, 1899).

Click to enlarge any of the pictures below for better viewing.






DRAWING ON THE PAST: In Homage to Oscar Wilde

It's the 158th anniversary of the birth of one of my idols -- Oscar Wilde. Ages ago (when I was still in high school!) I wrote my first thematic analogy paper that examined the similarities between The Picture of Dorian Gray and Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Little did I know that essay would eventually lead me into a world of similar content comparisons in crime and supernatural fiction. It seems to have become my trademark as anyone who reads this blog may have already discovered.
In honor of Oscar's natal anniversary I offer up a variety of illustrations from his brilliant tale of terror and crime.

We start with the thoroughly aged and corrupted portrait as revealed in the final scenes from the 1945 movie adaptation starring Hurd Hatfield, George Sanders and Angela Lansbury. I believe this color photo was taken as a screen capture from the extras available on the DVD.  The film itself is in black and white and yet I found several color photos of Hatfield's portrait both before and after the transformation.


Next, a young illustrator and art student who goes by the web name of "spyders".  This brilliantly realized version was found at the website DeviantArt.


This one is by artist Stephen Alcorn as part of a series of relief block prints interpreting literary characters.


The Dell paperback version from the 1950s. The artist got it completely backwards here. Strange.


Another cartoon interpretation.  I was unable to identify the artist or its source.


From a graphic novel version of the book as retold and illustrated by Ian Edgington and Ian Culbard:


Artist Dan Hipp's idea for a cover on a non-existent edition of Wilde's novel.

Basil Hallward and Dorian admire the portrait before it begins its gruesome transformation. Taken from an illustrated edition, neither publisher nor artist was attributed on the website where I found it.  For shame.


And finally...a publicity still from one of the most infamous (and horrible) movie versions. An utterly wrong adaptation of the tale set in mod 1970 starring Helmut Berger and including various absurd sex scenes and lots of nudity. I like to think that Oscar would most likely have found this movie version  hysterically funny.