Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Happy 90th Birthday, Ronald Searle!

Ronald Searle, the greatest living cartoonist, celebrated his 90th birthday yesterday. I've always loved Searle's work since seeing his Molesworth illustrations (particularly of the life and habits of the Gerund) at school . His most famous drawings are probably his St. Trinian's cartoons, though many may also know him for his earlier, more serious work as an unofficial war artist from when he was a prisoner in Changi. Since Searle has the good taste to live within easy reach of a number of vineyards, I've uploaded some of his wine-themed cartoons.

I love the billowy stomach set against the flat, stiff limbs in the drawing above.

At some restaurants the wine is treated with such reverence and ceremony that the wine list might as well be delivered by the 'High Priest'.

Love the use of straight lines and diagonals to emphasise the force here. I've only just noticed the pot-bellied bloke at far right, ogling the woman sitting opposite him.

'Ah, my Beloved, fill the cup...' A really beautiful drawing that proves that not drawing a line can be as effective as drawing one. As always the thickness of the line adds weight and tone.

This one's one of my all-time favourites. I love the impression on the waiter's face. He looks like he'll still pour a glass for the unfortunate guest.

The seated couple are so delightfully ugly in this one. Note the layers of fat, the dozy expressions, the many chins, the snout-like noses and the slightly exposed nipples.

'A jug of wine, a loaf of bread and Thou...'

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Sir John Tenniel & Jack the Ripper

No, this post isn't about the bizarre theory that Lewis Carroll was responsible for the Whitechapel murders (though the idea is too funny not to mention later in this post). It covers cartoons on 'Jack the Ripper' by John Tenniel, who is best known now for his Alice illustrations, but who was famous at the time as a cartoonist for satyrical magazine Punch, or the London Charivari.

Jack the Ripper is probably the most famous serial killer, despite his relatively low body count; this is partly because he was one of the very first, partly because of the brutality of the killings, and partly because he was never caught.

The 1888 Whitechapel muders mingle with the fictional creations of the period: Victor Frankenstein had been harvesting organs for his infamous experiment fifty seven years before; Mr. Hyde was stalking the streets of London doing who knows what; Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were pioneering forensic science to solve murder cases; and Count Dracula was preparing to infiltrate the Empire in the bloodiest way possible.

The list of real-life suspects grows steadily longer every year. One of the favourites is Francis Tumblety, an American quack doctor whose criminal connections stretched to a possible involvement in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln (though he was cleared for that allegation). Tumblety fiercely disliked women, particularly 'fallen women', and owned a collection of wombs in jars - comparable to the murderer's passion for removing the wombs of his victims, amongst other organs.

But there have been many more theories, some bordering on the comic. Among the most outrageous claims is the theory that the murderer was a syphilis-crazed Prince Albert Victor. There have been other conspiracy theories involving the Royal Family and the Masons. But the craziest one is probably the above mentioned theory of Richard Wallace, who asserts that Lewis Carroll inserted anagrams of confessions in his writings. Needless to say, these theories are generally regarded as entertaining, but not taken seriously.

The cartoons below are by John Tenniel, who was probably Punch's best cartoonist. His illustrations were normally given a full page, sometimes even a double-page spread. The first reviews of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland focus as much on Tenniel's illustrations as Carrol's text. Other Tenniel Punch cartoons contain prototypes of Alice, the Queen of Hearts and various other characters from the two books (see Michael Hancher, Tenniel Illustrations to the 'Alice' Books, 1986).

Given the goriness and brutality of the murders, it is perhaps not surprising that Tenniel chooses to focus on the circumstances and cultural effect of the killings, rather than the killings themselves.

(By the way, Punch's alternate name of The London Charivari, refers to the French satyrical periodical for which Gustave Dore, J. J. Grandville and Honore Daumier all at some point drew.)

First is a Punch engraving from September 22, 1888, fourteen days after the murder of Annie Chapman, the second of the Ripper's five victims. At this point, the closest the murderer had to an identity was the name 'Leather Apron', who had apparently been threatening the Whitechapel prostitutes for a year. This name had entered public consciousness via a September 5th article in The Star.

The cartoon, Blind Man's Buff, mocks the police's methods of detection. The policeman shown is gagged, cutting off his sight, hearing and sense of smell. He blindly gropes about while various disreputable types mock and jeer. Note the neanderthal-like physiognomy of these characters; ever since the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species in 1859, attempts had been made to profile criminals as devolved throwbacks, a perceived physical manifestation of their opposition to civilisation.

The cartoon is accompanied by a poem:

A strange mad game to play in such a place!
The monster City's maze, whose paths to trace
Might tax another Theseus, the resort
Of worse than Minotaurs, for blindfold sport
Would seem the most unfitting of all scenes;
What is it there such solemn fooling means?

Means? Ask purblind Municipal Muddledom
The true significance of the City Slum.
Ask, but expect no answer more exact
Than blundering palterers with truth and fact
Range in their pigeon-holes in order neat,
The awkward questionings of sense to meet,
And meeting, blandly baffle. Lurking crime
Haunts from of old these dens of darksome slime.
There, where well-armed authority fears to tread,
Murder and outrage rear audacious head,
Unscanned, untracked. As the swift-sliding snake
Slips to the covert of the swamp's foul brake,
Fearless of following where no foot may find
Firm resting, where the foetid fumes that blind,
The reeking mists that palsy, guard its lair;
So Crime sneaks to the Slum's seclusion. There
Revealing light, the foe of all things ill,
With no intrusive ray floods in to fill
Those hideous alleys, and those noisome nooks,
With health and safety. Flush with limpid brooks
The slime-fouled gutters of the Ghetto, drive
Phinlimmon's breeze through Labour's choking hive,
But let not light into the loathsome den.
 Where hags called women, ghouls in the guise of men
Live on death-dealing, feed a loathly life,
On the chance profits of the furtive knife.
The robber's mountain haunt, the outlaw's cave,
Guarded by rocks or sheltered by the wave
From feet intrusive, furnish no such lair
For desperate villany or dull despair,
As this obscene Alsatia of the Slums.
Town's carrion-hordes flock hither; hither comes
The haggard harpy of the pavement, she
The victim's victim, whose delirious glee
Makes mirth a crackling horror; hither slink
The waifs of passion and the wrecks of drink.
Multiform wretchedness in rags and grime,
Hopeless of good and ripe for every crime;
A seething mass of misery and of vice,
These grim but secret-guarding haunts entice.
Look at those walls; they reek with dirt and damp,
But in their shadows crouched the homeless tramp
May huddle undisturbed the black night through.
Those narrow winding courts - in thought - pursue.
No light there reaks upon the bludgeoned wife,
No flash of day arrests the lifted knife,
There shrieks arouse not, nor do groans affright.
These are but normal noises of the night
In this obscure Gehenna. Must it be
That the black slum shall furnish sanctuary
To all light-shunning creatures of the slime,
Vermin of vice, carnivora of crime?
Must it be here that Mammon finds its tilth,
And harvests gold from haunts of festering filth?
How long? The voice of sense seems stricken dumb,
What time the sordid Spectre of the Slum,
Ruthless red-handed Murder sways the scene,
Mocking of glance, and merciless of mien.
Mocking? Ah, yes! At Law the ghoul may laugh,
The sword is here as harmless as the staff
Of crippled age; its sleuthhounds are at fault,
Justice appears not only blind but halt.
It seems to play a merely blinkered gamer,
Blundering about without a settled aim,
Like boys at Blind-Man's Buff. A pretty sport
For Law's sworn guards in rascaldom's resort!
The bland official formula to-day
Seems borrowed from the tag of Nursery play,
"Turn around three times," upon no settled plan,
"Flounder and fumble, and "catch whom you can!"

Five days later, the famous 'Dear Boss' letter arrived at the Central News Agency, signed 'Jack', giving the killer his name in the media. The police would not release the letter, however, until 1st October.

The September 29th edition of Punch featured perhaps Tenniel's most famous Ripper cartoon, The Nemesis of Neglect. The killer, identity still unknown in reality, is a gruesome ghoul stalking the run-down streets of the East End. The phantom hovers over a ground littered with rubbish and broken bottles, while the top of a ladder peeking up at left hints at the multileveled, labyrinthine quality of these urban catacombs. Glass panes are broken; walls crumble; wooden doors are rotting away - the emphasis here is not so much on the incompetence of the police so much as the debauched and dystopian nature of society, from which such a spectre must inevitably rise. The media attention the Whitechapel murders attracted also drew attention to the level of prostitution in the area, a subject previously ignored.

Tenniel's skill as a draughtsman is evident here; he manages to create a very eerie, sinister atmosphere primarily through the use of lines and hatching. The semi-transparent density of the ghoul, who is framed against the receding darkness of the avenue in the background, emphasises the supernatural nature of the mystery surrounding the murders as perceived by the public.

As before, the cartoon was printed alongside a sizable text, beginning with a quote:

"Just as long as the dwellings of this race continue in their present condition, their whole surroundings a sort of warren of foul alleys garnished with the flaring lamps of the gin-shops, and offering to all sorts of lodgers, for all conceivable wicked purposes, every possible accomodation to further brutalise, we shall have still to go on - affecting astonishment that in such a state of things we have outbreaks, from time to time, of the horrors of the present day." - "S. G. O.," in Times of 18th September, in his Letter entitled, "At Last."

This is followed by another rhyming description of the scene:

There is no light along those winding ways
Other than lurid gleams like marsh-fires fleeting;
Thither the sunniest of summer days
Sends scarce one golden shaft of gladsome greeting.
June noonday has no power upon its gloom
More than the murky fog-flare of December;
A Stygian darkness seems its settled doom;
Life, like a flickering ember,
There smoulders dimly on in deathly wise,
Like sleep-dulled glitter in a serpent's eyes.

Yet as that sullen sinister cold gleam
At sight of prey to a fierce flame shall quicken,
So the dull life that lurks in this dread scene.
By the sharp goad of greed or hatred stricken,
Flares into hideous force and fierceness foul,
Swift as the snake to spring and strong to capture.
Here the sole joys are those of the man-ghoul.
Thirst-thrill and ravin-rapture.
Held DANTE's Circles such a dwelling-place?
Did primal sludge e'er harbour such a race?
It is not Hades, nor that world of slime
Where dragons tare and man-shaped monsters fought.
Civilisation's festering heart of crime
Is here, and here some loathly glimpse is caught
Of its barbaric beating, pulsing through
Fair limbs and flaunting garb wherewith 'tis hidden.
Mere human sewage? True, O Sage! Most true!
Society's kitchen-midden!
But hither crowd the ills which are our bane:
And thence in viler shape creep forth again.

Whence? Foulness filters here from honest homes
And thievish dens, town-rookery, rural village.
Vice to be nursed to violence hither comes,
Nurture unnatural, abhorrent tillage!
What sin soever amidst luxury springs,
Here amidst poverty finds full fruition.
There is no name for the unsexed foul things
Plunged to their last perdition
In this dark Malebolge, ours - which yet
We build, and populate, and then - forget!

It will not be forgotten; it will find
A voice, like the volcano, and will scatter
Such hideous wreck among us, deaf and blind,
As all our sheltering shams shall rend and shatter.
The den is dark, secluded, it may yield
To Belial, a haunt, to Mammon profit;
But we shall reap the tillage of that field
In harvest meet for Tophet.
Slum-farming knaves suck shameful wealth from sin,
But a dread Nemesis abides therein.

Dank roofs, dark entries, closely-clustered walls,
Murder-inviting nooks, death-reeking gutters,
A boding voice from your foul chaos calls,
When will men heed the warning that it utters?
There floats a phantom on the slum's foul air,
Shaping, to eyes which have the gift of seeing,
Into that spectre of that loathly lair.
Face it - for vain is fleeing!
Red-handed, ruthless, furtive, unerect,
'Tis murderous Crime - the Nemesis of Neglect!

It was in the wee hours of the very next morning that two more victims were discovered: Elizabeth Stride - whose murder may have been interrupted by the police - and Catherine Eddowes - a number of whose organs were removed, including a kidney supposedly enclosed in the second 'From Hell' letter of October 16.

Three days before this letter, Tenniel's final cartoon linked to the murders was released. Whitechapel 1888 is the only cartoon of the three to refer specifically to the site of the murders, though the allusions in the first two are evident. The subject of the cartoon is again the lack of effectiveness of the police. A policeman at left seems oblivious to the two members of the 'Criminal Class' - more devolved thugs with ape-like physiognomy - who lurk in the foreground. The policeman is unlikely to find many unseemly characters around the gaslight he patrols near.

The text accompanying this cartoon is considerably shorter than before:

"I have to observe that the Metropolitan Police have not large reserves doing nothing and ready to meet emergencies; but every man has his duty assigned to him, and I can only strengthen the Whitechapel district by drawing men from duty in other parts of the Metropolis." - Sir Charles Warren's Statement.
"There is one Policeman to every seven hundred persons." - Vide Recent Statistics

Sir Charles Warren, quoted above in the caption to the cartoon, eventually became fed up with all the criticism and resigned several days later, just before the body of Mary Jane Kelly - probably the Ripper's final victim - was found in a rather sorry state.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Portfolio and CV

I've recently updated my CV and Portfolio, combining them as a single pdf. Included in the document are quite a few of my published and unpublished drawings, including many that aren't on the main site. If you want a copy, comment on this post with your email address, or email me.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Ten classics Gustave Dore should have illustrated, but didn't

Quite a long post today, to make up for the lack of recent updates. There are a lot of big images here, so this may take a while to load.

Throughout his career as an illustrator Gustave Dore proved that he could adapt to a variety of genres. Despite his productivity and his ambition to illustrate all of the world literary classics, he didn't get around to illustrating everything. There are a number of reasons; in his biography of Dore Dan Malan notes that publishers would rarely pay for both a great author and a great illustrator, so most of the Dore illustrated classics are public domain properties. In a couple of cases, seminal illustrations for these works had been released by other artists, and Dore steered clear. The final few on this list were never illustrated by Dore simply because he died before they were written.

I've picked ten classics of literature which I feel it was a pity he never illustrated, listed below in chronological order.

1. Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales (late 14th C)

Despite the inspiration Chaucer offers artists, there have been relatively few illustrated editions of the Tales. Perhaps the varying styles of the stories themselves have presented a challenge. Manuscripts of the Tales, such as the Ellesmere Chaucer, tend to illustrate only the pilgrims. Later illlustrated versions contain some interesting illustrations of the stories themselves, but my favourite illustrations are the portraits of the pilgrims by James Jeffrys, which were never published in his lifetime. The Kelmscott Chaucer, designed by William Morris and illustrated by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, is one of the most beautiful books ever made. In 2008 Barry Moser, perhaps the greatest living illustrator, mentioned an ambition to print his own illustrations.

The many different styles of the individual tales could be said to have been covered by Dore at different points in his career. The Arthurian setting for the Wife of Bath's Tale most obviously appears in his Idylls of the King illustrations (above). Demons as they appear in the Friar's and Prioress' tale, amongst others, are comparable visually to the cast of Dante and Paradise Lost. The atmosphere of the Knight's Tale is very present in Dore's illustrations for The Crusades and Orlando Furioso.

Burne-Jones, for all the beauty of his illustrations, can not be said to have created the definitive illustrated Chaucer: the Kelmscott Chaucer only features illustrations for the more pious stories, like the Knight's and Prioress' tales. Dore, however, would have been comfortable not only with the nobler subjects, but also the more vulgar, bawdy tales - like those of the Miller, the Reeve and the Cook. He would have had particular fun with part of the prologue to the Summoner's tale, in which a demon asks Satan to 'lift up thy ars', and a swarm of friars flies out of the devil's anus. Dore had already perfected comical monks in his Contes Drolatiques illustrations (above).

But Dore would probably have had the most fun with the Pardoner's tale, in which three crooks try to capture and kill Death, but end up, like all the rest of us, ensnared by their prey. Death appears in Dore's work more than any other figure, particularly in Contes Drolatiques (above), The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (below) and The Raven.

Dore probably never illustrated Chaucer because he wasn't terribly good with English, and Shakespeare was far more popular and accessible. But even though it was his ambition to produce a lavishly illustrated Shakespeare, I can't help thinking that Chaucer would have served Dore better. His illustrations for Don Quixote and Rabelais in particular show that he would have had little trouble finding an appropriate style for portraits of the pilgrims.

2. One Thousand and One Nights (first appeared in Europe 1704)

'The Arabian Nights is more generally loved generally loved than Shakespeare,' declared Robert Louis Stevenson. 'No human face or voice greets us among (this) crowd of kings and genies, sorcerers and beggarmen. Adventure, on the most naked terms, furnishes forth the entertainment and is found enough.' The appeal of these stories is their pure fantasy. The one thousand cliffhangers are all placed such that the reader persists until the end of the entire book. It has probably been illustrated more times than any other book on this list (with the possible exception of Grimm's Fairy Tales), though rarely in its entirety. Particularly fine illustrations have been done by Edmund Dulac and Maxfield Parrish, but my personal favourites are probably those by Rene Bull in 1912. Many of the stories have been released individually: there is an excellent illustrated Sindbad by Quentin Blake.

With his work ethic, Dore is one of the few artists who could have illustrated all of the Arabian Nights, probably with time to spare. The speed with which he executed the Orlando Furioso illustrations (above and below) suggests a passion for myth and fantasy - is there any work of literature that offers fantasy more copiously than the Nights, with their sublime worlds of castles, caves and clouds, and an endless cast of Genies, giants, magicians and ghouls? He would have had perhaps more fun than with any other subject.

He presumably didn't illustrate the whole thing because it would have been too expensive. It's difficult to think of how a lavishly illustrated edition could be published and sold affordably; perhaps the Arabian Nights could have been released periodically in volumes, though it would have been an enormous set. But according to Edmund Ollier, Dore was planning to illustrate the Nights after his never completed Shakespeare illustrations.

Dore did actually do nine full-page illustrations and eleven vignettes for a small but famous part of the Arabian Nights: the story of Sindbad the Sailor, and his Seven Voyages. Of these, the most striking is probably the image of Sindbad being lowered into the tomb, where he will be buried alive. The Sindbad illustrations are very scarce but worth a look. Ray Harryhausen has acknowledged the influence of Dore's fantasy illustrations on his work in films.

3. Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels (1726)

Jonathan Swift's classic takes the hero through four distinct worlds, each with its own perils and delights. Of course, one of Gulliver's voyages inspired the 1939 Fleischer film. My favourite illustrations are those by Grandville, which I'll cover in more detail later.

This would have been an ideal subject for Dore, with its fantastical locations and tremendous scale mixed with humour. The tone is comparable to Baron Munchausen (above), Rabelais and Don Quixote, which Dore demonstrated a particular affinity with.

The most influential artist on Dore's work in his early career was J. J. Grandville, undoubtedly one of the greatest illustrators of all time. Grandville is best known for his illustrations for Un Autre Monde in 1844, which were appropriated by the Surrealists in the 20th Century. He saw the young Dore's drawings and encouraged him to persist. We can see how much Dore admired Grandville in his childhood drawings of dogs, insects and other creatures acting like civilised people. Yet a comparison between the way the two illustrators interpreted the Fables of LaFontaine demonstrates just how much Dore changed later on in his career.

Anyway, it was with Dore's Rabelais illustrations of 1854 (above) that he first emerged as a serious illustrator of literature. A comparison shows that Grandville's 450 Gulliver illustrations must have been at least part of Dore's inspiration when he tackled Rabelais. Both feature giant and/or midget characters; both refer to the more animalistic instincts of humanity; both use humour. Rabelais is much more vulgar than Gulliver, though Grandville did manage to sneak in an illustration of Gulliver extinguishing a fire in Lilliput in unorthodox fashion, anticipating the deluge of bodily functions in Rabelais.

Dore may have felt that any version he could come up with would have been too similar to Grandville's interpretation. But I think his take on the material would have been sufficiently original in his later career, such as when he returned to Rabelais in 1873 with some of his very best creations (above).

4. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Children's and Household Tales (1812)

These stories were all adapted from German folk tales. They are perhaps the most famous of fairy tales and have been illustrated many times. Particularly famous are those by Arthur Rackham, Charles Robinson, Kay Nielsen, Walter Crane and, perhaps my favourite, George Cruikshank. You have probably all seen Disney's Snow White, based on the Grimms' most famous story.

Dore had already illustrated the Contes of Charles Perrault in 1862, demonstrating an ability to illustrate fairy tales well (above). The Perrault illustrations have a decidedly Germanic flavour, which is why I have picked the Grimm's tales as appropriate material for Dore, but he really could have tackled other fairy tales, such as those of Hans Christian Andersen. But the frequency of monsters, witches and ogres in the Grimm's stories makes them the most ideal candidate.

Even though they were presumably aimed at a younger audience, Dore's Perrault illustrations are probably the most frightening he ever drew. Particularly chilling are the bed scenes, such as the famous Red Riding Hood illustration and the ogre's scene in Hop o' my Thumb (above and below). I can't help but think of a moment in the Grimms' Hansel and Gretel:

'Early in the morning before the children were up, she got out of bed and gazed at the two of them sleeping so peacefully with their soft red cheeks. And she muttered quietly to herself: "They will make a tasty little morsel."'

One can only imagine the terror and sexual intensity Dore could have endowed an illustration of this scene with.

5. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust (1806, 1832)

A seminal interpretation of the popular legend of Doctor Faustus, giving rise to many more artistic interpretations. A few highlights of many: Peter Cornelius created some fine illustrations in 1816. Moritz Reitsch replaced the Germanic roots of the story with Classical influences in his illustrations of the same year. Eugene Delacroix's 1827 Faust lithographs introduced Romantic illustration to France. A beautiful, lavish set of illustrations by Harry Clarke was published in 1926; see my post about them here. There is also F. W. Murnau's amazing film, also released in 1926.

Edmund Ollier suggested Goethe's masterpiece as a good subject for Dore to illustrate in his Essay in The Dore Gallery. The Germanic setting is familiar in his illustrations for Contes Drolatiques and The Wandering Jew (above). No doubt he would have relished scenes of violence such as the duel with Valentin, or atmospheric horror scenes like the witch's kitchen. Demons appear in Dore's illustrations as often as the text will allow, from Rabelais to Dante's Inferno and Paradise Lost (below); we can only imagine how he could have depicted such a devil as Mephistopheles.

I think the reason Dore didn't illustrate it is similar to the likely reason he didn't tackle Gulliver, only this time it was Delacroix's heels he didn't want to tread on. As I mentioned above, Eugene Delacroix had illustrated Faust in 1827. There were only seventeen lithographs but they are among the most famous illustrations of any period, and are perhaps the defining illustrations of the era Dore was working in. Goethe himself had praised them, even admitting that they at times surpassed his text.

It is also worth noting that there was no artist Dore respected and admired more than Delacroix. The influence can be seen in his work. There is little doubt that Delacroix's The Barque of Dante was in Dore's mind when he illustrated the Inferno (above). The Faust lithographs may have had an even bigger influence. The theatrical composition of Dore's folio engravings - the scenes are never viewed from an extreme angle - may owe something to the staginess of the layout in the Faust lithographs, which may in turn have been influenced by the theatrical production of Faust that would initially inspire Delacroix to illustrate the subject. The list of influences goes on, but I'll save them for another post. I do think, however, that Dore's style was sufficiently different to that of Delacroix, such that his own Faust could have been an original take.

6. Victor Hugo,
Notre Dame de Paris (1831)

An excellent novel with a cast of well-defined characters that lends itself well to illustration. There have been a few illustrated Hunchbacks, with A. de Lemud's illustrations of 1844 a particular highlight. Fans should also watch the classic film starring Lon Chaney, which is in the public domain, so must be downloadable somewhere online.

In a way, Dore sort illustrated this one - he did a few drawings and watercolours, but no published illustrations, and he was never commissioned to illustrate it. The story is dominated by its Gothic setting, an appropriate stage for the extremes of passion and emotion that will take place. The gargoyles and spires of Notre Dame would have been ideal for Dore to illustrate, familiar as he was with Strasbourg cathedral, a mass of spires so densely populated with gargoyles that Notre Dame is a ghost town in comparison. (Incidentally, fans of the creatures of Strasbourg cathedral would do well to seek out a copy of Cathedrale by John Howe.) Dore grew up in Strasbourg and passed the enormous cathedral every day. He became acquainted with the beautiful architecture and entranced by the legends attached to it. We can see how it informed his illustrations, particularly the world of Contes Drolatiques and Rabelais, with their forests of spires and steeples.

Of course, for much of his professional career Dore lived and worked in Paris. He depicted Notre Dame in his 1873 Rabelais, in which the giant Gargantua steals the cathedral's bells and an embassy from Paris begs him to give them back. Gargantua himself almost becomes one with the architecture in this illustration which demonstrates Dore's skill at depicting crowd scenes. Robin Allan speculates that it may have been a source for Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame.

As in Rabelais (below) and Contes Drolatiques, Dore would have been given the opportunity to depict the carnivalesque in the celebrations of the Feast of Fools. In his writings Victor Hugo declared a great admiration for Rabelais, so was as sympathetic to his world as Dore had proved to be.

Yet another reason Dore should have illustrated the novel is that he and Victor Hugo were friends. In 1866 Dore drew two small illustrations for Hugo's Toilers of the Sea, described by Dan Malan as 'barely an appetizer, by Dore's standards' (see a sketch below); Hugo, then out of Paris, wrote a letter to the illustrator expressing his immeasurable praise for these little engravings: 'your octopus is frightful, and your Gilligat is grand... To you I shall furnish the opportunity to create another monument.'

Hopefully Hugo's book will someday be published with the few drawings and watercolours Dore did make of the novel, but it deserved a proper set of illustrations. We have only a tantalising glimpse of what could have been.

7. Bram Stoker, Dracula (1897)

The second of what Stephen King has dubbed the 'Unholy Trinity' of Gothic Horror, the other two being Frankenstein and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Considering the number of movie adaptations that have been made, there have been relatively few illustrated editions of Dracula. This October saw the release of an abridged version for children with illustrations by Anne Yvonne Gilbert, which are beautiful but, ultimately, inaccurate to the spirit of the text and the character - the sympathetic, beautiful Dracula of these images perhaps owes more to Twilight than Stoker. The 1997 illustrations by Tudor Humphries are excellent, an original but accurate take on the character. But the best illustrations are probably those by Barry Moser (who is, incidentally, something of a successor to Dore).

This is the first book on this list which it was physically impossible for Dore to illustrate - it was published fourteen years after his death. But the lingering terror in many of his illustrations, as well as his passion for the gothic and grotesque, is very appropriate to Stoker's novel.

Gordon N. Ray found that Dore's illustrations for Poe's The Raven (above) 'could serve equally well for Bram Stoker's Dracula'. Combine these with London; A Pilgrimage, the decaying faces and crumbling castles of Contes Drolatiques and the demonic intensity of Dante's Inferno (below) and you could quite comfortably fill an entire book, with images to spare.

Even though he never directly illustrated it, Dore still contributed to the iconography commonly associated with Dracula. The famous 1931 film adaptation by Todd Browning is generally disappointing visually save for some of the Transylvania scenes. The script included the direction that the scene where the disguised Dracula picks up his English visitor by coach should look 'like a Dore steel engraving'. Elements of Dore can be found in virtually every Dracula film from Nosferatu to Van Helsing (the winged vampire brides in Stephen Sommer's film are dead ringers for the Gorgons of Dore's Dante, though curiously with no nipples). 1934 saw the release of Max Ernst's surreal collage novel in five pamphlets, Une Semaine de Bonte. The transformations and oneiric visions owe much to Grandville, but the elements of horror are very evocative of Dore. The red pamphlet for Tuesday: The Court of the Dragon shows the inhabitants of a bourgeois household sprouting vampire wings. The wings in these collages are taken from Dore's Paradise Lost illustrations. I will do some posts on Une Semaine de Bonte soon.

Mel Brooks' 1995 spoof Dracula Dead and Loving It uses three of the Dante illustrations (the first, third and seventh images) and one from Contes Drolatiques (the twenty second, final image, above) in its opening credits (below).

Also used here are two images from Une Semaine de Bonte (the second and tenth images); Fuseli's two Nightmare images (the eleventh and eighteenth images); two illustrations from 1845-7's Varney the Vampire (the thirteenth and sixteenth images); 'The Consequences' from Goya's Disasters of War (the fifth image) and 'They Carried Her off' from his Caprichos (the fifteenth image); and an illustration from Le Diable Amoureux (the seventeenth image). I'm unable to identify the fourth, sixth, eighth, ninth, twelfth, fourteenth, nineteenth and twentieth images.

8. Edgar Allen Poe, Tales of Mystery & Imagination (1908)

One of the greatest writers - perhaps the greatest - of horror fiction. Edmund Dulac and Arthur Rackham both illustrated Poe. But the seething terror of the text is perhaps best depicted in the swirling decadence of Harry Clarke's illustrations, which you can see on the excellent A Journey Round my Skull. Nightmares in Decay: The Edgar Allen Poe Illustrations of Harry Clarke will be released on June 30 2010.

The Tales were first gathered in the same volume in 1908, but of course they were written much earlier, all well within Dore's lifetime. Dore illustrated Poe's The Raven (above and below), but before publication he died - possibly from sorrow, from the loss not of Lenore but of his overbearing mother, without whom he couldn't function. It's a pity Dore didn't get started on Poe earlier. The main reason seems to have been that the publishers were waiting for the copyright on Poe to expire. Dore's Raven coincided with Poe's entry into the public domain almost to the day.

Dore would surely have been excited and inspired by the Tales had he been given the task to illustrate them, with their emphasis on terror, death, pain, madness and mysticism. The spectre of Death, so familiar a figure in Dore's work, would have been allowed many more outings, appearing in person in The Masque of the Red Death and lurking about in the metaphysical background of the other stories, as he does in The Raven (below).

9. Mervyn Peake, Gormenghast (1946-1959)

One of my all-time favourite books. To my knowledge there has never been an illustrated version, though Peake himself sketched the characters and once made drawings for a proposed Gormenghast opera. It is a pity there is not a more complete set of illustrations from the author himself.

Another one that Dore never lived to see - he was maybe born a century too early. The Gormenghast trilogy seems ideally suited to Dore's style, particularly the first two, which recall his Contes Drolatiques illustrations, with their endless cast of grotesque characters (above) and enormous, gothic mise en scene (below). The whole thing is tailored to Dore perfectly - the crumbling but steadfast walls of the immense castle; the forest of roofs up above; the characters, from the hideous (Chef Swelter, Secretary Barquentine) to the eccentric (Professor Bellgrove, Irma Prunesquallor) to the just plain mad (Nannie Slagg, Lord Sepulchrave).

Incidentally, Mervyn Peake was an excellent illustrator himself. His drawings for the Alice books are arguably the most sympathetic to Lewis Carroll's sense of humour than any other set of illustrations. His son Sebastian was the model for Jim Hawkins in his amazing Treasure Island drawings. I also love his interpretation of Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Like Dore, he produced an amazing set of illustrations for The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Before he died he had begun a set of illustrations for a proposed Folio Society edition of Contes Drolatiques.

10. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955)

Another great 20th Century trilogy. One of the finest stories ever written, and the closest Britain has come to having its own home-grown mythology. Tolkien himself drew many of the locations and scenes he described, most famously creating the maps of Middle Earth and Arda that appear in all of his books. The world he created has continued to inspire artists. For several years the Brothers Hildebrandt executed lavish oil paintings for Tolkien-themed calendars. John Howe and Alan Lee are the most famous Tolkien illustrators; both worked on Peter Jackson's film trilogy. Ian Miller has also done some amazing illustrations inspired by Tolkien. The best illustrations, however, are probably by Ted Nasmith.

Again, this is an incident where Dore was born a century too early. Then again, many often quip that Tolkien was born at least one century too late, so we can blame him too. All of Tolkien's work, from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit to The Silmarillion and The Unfinished Tales, would have been excellent material for Dore to illustrate. The atmosphere of Dore's Orlando Furioso (above) is comparable that of Tolkien's epic world, with its fantastical creatures and enormous battles.

The vaguely Pre-Raphaelite world of the Elves would have a similar look to the Idylls of the King illustrations. But Dore would have been most at home with monsters like Shelob and Ungoliant (see in particular his Legende de Croque-Mitaine illustrations, above) and the evil parts of Middle earth, particularly Udun and Mordor, which is not dissimilar to the hell of Dante (below) in appearance.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Joyce Mercer's Illustrations for The Classic Fairy Tales of Hans Andersen

Robert Brandon's introduction to the 1935 edition of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales describes Joyce Mercer's style as 'inimitable and peculiarly individualistic; her treatment exemplary. Children cannot fail to be interested in the marvellous colour drawings and the subtle humour of the black and white; and grown ups will appreciate them also.'

The craft of the line in these illustrations is extremely elegant and calligraphic - and, graphically, extremely satisfying, particularly in the vignettes, with their sense of balance and consistency in the character and concentration of line work. They would look quite at home next to a treble clef. Unfortunately, these 1992 prints of the illustrations do not do justice to the precision and sharpness of the original drawings. The colour illustrations have a 'stained glass' look to them and use flowing black lines to contain some areas of colour, while other colours bleed into each other to create a marble effect.