The Art of Illustration – Authors And Illustrations

THE literary man, and even editors sometimes, have strange notions of what is proper to the illustrator’s function. It is an authentic fact that a well-known editor commissioned an artist to make a drawing ” showing the British Possessions all round the globe by leaving out the shadows.”

Dickens, as is well known, set great store by the illustrations of his novels, and perhaps this is not to be wondered at since the Pickwick Papers were begun as letterpress to accompany drawings ; though this process was soon reversed. This method of writing up to drawings rather than making drawings to illustrate a text seems to have been fairly general until well into the ‘Sixties.

In Pendennis we are told that Percy Popjoy had written some verses to illustrate one of the pictures which was called the “Church Porch.” A Spanish damsel was hastening to church with a large prayer book ; a youth hidden in a niche was watching this young woman. The picture was pretty, but the great genius of Percy Popjoy had deserted him, for he had made the most execrable verses which were ever perpetrated by a young nobleman. Pendennis tries his hand, on Warrington’s advice, and `turns out Thackeray’s prettiest verses to the plate. Thackeray doubtless invented the occasion to work in the verses, but it appears to have been a common practice to write up to the illustrations.

Among the writers who have obviously ” written up to ” the illustrations are Frederick Locker, Tom Taylor, and, I am inclined to think, Robert Buchanan, in a list that includes also Christina Rossetti, William Allingham, George Macdonald, the Hon. Mrs. Norton, and Tom Hood.

A famous case of a picture inspiring verses was that of Whistler’s ” Little White Girl,” to which Swinburne was moved to write :

” White Rose in Red rose Garden Is not so white.”

which is interesting in so much as Whistler in the few drawings he made for illustrative purposes paid scant attention to the letterpress, and had as little to do with any extraneous interest as possible in all his art.

At present the usual course is for the Art Editor to hand over the MS. of a story to an artist whose work he regards as likely to be appropriate, leaving the selection of subjects to him, but giving any necessary information as to the space allotted and the time allowed. Drawings are not generally ” written up to ” unless they are of a topical or seasonal character, nor are they often accepted simply for their intrinsic interest. The Yellow Book had the idea of endeavouring to change this by printing drawings independently of text, but not many were drawn specially, artists using the quarterly rather as a vehicle, much of the work published, with the exception of Beardsley’s own, being from pictures, etchings or studies not primarily intended for reproduction at all, and the same was the case with The Savoy. The idea was excellent, and it is a pity that it is not more acted upon. We have no publication at the present time with the spacious dignity of the Portfolio, under P. G. Hamerton, in spite of the comparative cheapness of modern methods of printing, paper and reproduction, compared with those in vogue in Hamerton’s time.