The Art of Illustration – Truth To Life

NO matter how untrue to life a story may be, the artist can dismiss this from his mind, and treat the characters as realities, not as puppets ; put life into them and contrive at least to give a picture of the period. There is a general lack of liveliness in our books and magazines as though the life of Britain supplied hardly more than two or three stock types of a theatrical order. Sometimes the impression is conveyed that the artist has thought it more important to render the crease in the trousers impeccably than the character of the young hero who wears them. The heroines are lacking in flesh and blood, and are often too concerned about being ” ladylike ” to be ladies. Our representation of foreigners must frequently be a source of irritation to them ; our Frenchmen and Americans are more absurdly unlike than are the stock presentations of the ” Englishman ” by French and American artists.

The Irishman is still drawn in knee-breeches, with a pipe in his caubeen and a shillelagh sticking out of his pocket, and with a face like a monkey. As great a travesty is frequently served up of Scottish life.

No further away than Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens Mr. Punch would have us believe that any lady of distinction has a proportionate height of eight, nine, or ten heads ; and that London Society, apparently by lack of thought, has succeeded in adding two or three cubits to its stature.

The Countryman is frequently drawn simply as a townsman wearing his clothes badly, rather than marked by any searched-for characteristic.

A milk-and-watery idealism has affected almost all artifice employed in detaching one group from another.

our efforts at the presentation of virtuous womankind ; we are given a sort of anaemic prettiness ; of other womankind the presentation is generally vulgar, as though to represent vulgarity it were necessary to draw vulgarly.

The illustrator lives too much in the studio. It is not meant that he spends too much time there, but that he does not carry the illustrator part of himself abroad sufficiently to see the people and the sights. Trollope said of Thackeray that he became lazy as he grew older, explaining that he meant, not that he didn’t work as hard at his desk as he had done, but that he didn’t perpetually live with his characters. It is probable that much of the strength of Renouard’s work in England, Ireland, and America arose from the fact that he had to live by his eye so largely, as he spoke little or no English, and that it was thus only by the significance of types and appearances that a subject could make its appeal to him. Having no ” parti-pris ” he did not see what he went out to see, but what was there, with the result that he gave us a true and emphatic vision of life, arrived at not by means of caricature, but by careful selection and isolation of character. Each individual is a type, from his hat to his boots—even his clothes being characteristic of, and so part of the man ; and not, as is generally the case with an academy portrait, the clothes worn by a model, the head alone being characterized.

Where decoration is the primary aim intensity of characterisation is not so necessary, and a rhythmic style may be adopted if in harmony with the subject. It is possible to imagine Beardsley’s drawings in connection with Swinburne’s verse, while Direr would seem halting and out of step. On the other hand, the style of Beardsley’s drawings would have been entirely out of keeping with Walt Whitman’s rough-hewn verse, while Durer’s forcible and spondaic method of characterisation would march with the same determined tread, and carry as much weight of content—or rather, more, from being packed in a more orderly manner—Whitman carrying his belongings strung about him after the manner of a tramp.