UNSUNG HEROES OF ILLUSTRATION 1

UNSUNG HEROES OF ILLUSTRATION 1

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Not long after I started making these videos about illustration it began to dawn on me just how many significant talented illustrators there have been who simply don't get the credit they deserve or who most people have never heard of and yet many of them were extremely successful and influential in their lifetimes. So in the hope of putting that right for some at least this is the first of a series featuring these unsung heroes from illustration's back catalogue. All the illustrators featured here are from what is called the Golden Age of Illustration. That's roughly between the 1890s when offset lithography enabled illustrators to work in full colour and the 1930s when colour photography started putting illustrators out of work. First into the spotlight is cartoonist Eugene Zimmerman known professionally
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as Zim and in the spirit of full disclosure let me admit that despite a lifetime's love of cartoon illustration I had never even heard of him until a few weeks ago while looking online for somebody else entirely and it was this revelation that triggered me to make the series. Zimmerman emigrated from Switzerland to the United States in 1868 at the age of six. At 18 he got a job as a sign writer and spent all his spare time building a portfolio of cartoons in the hope of turning professional. And within a couple of years his determination paid off when he was hired by Puck, a popular satirical magazine of the day. At Puck Zimmerman created a large volume of comic political and social commentary and was kept busy freelancing for other clients at the same time. In 1885 he was lured away to the rival Judge magazine where
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he was given greater freedom and more money. Although he was among the first illustrators to be able to take advantage of the new full-colour process like many of the period Zimmerman's work was founded on his abilities within the longer standing tradition of black and white linear expression. And there weren't many others whose line work was as energetic descriptive and downright enjoyable as his. It was what defined his entire style and even when working in colour the use of washes of transparent ink allowed the line work to solidify and bring his characters to life. And that was really his greatest attribute. Zimmerman's ability to playfully satirize his fellow humans whatever their race gender age or station in life and their exaggerated anatomy expressions and posing made them all the more familiar to his audience. He left Judge in 1912 and went on to write and publish his own correspondence
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course for aspiring cartoonists. Sadly it's no longer in print but you can buy it as an e-book if you look for it online. At the age of 23 Harry Rountree arrived in London from New Zealand determined to make his mark as an illustrator. For two years he struggled and sold only the occasional drawing but when Little Folks children's publishing gave him a commission to illustrate comical animals he produced a series of images so endearing and believable others quickly started to offer him commissions. And by the early 1900s he was busy illustrating books for Little Folks, writing and illustrating his own stories and in demand by nearly every publishing house in London. Like Zimmerman Rountree had grown up in an age of linear illustration and was of similarly astonishing ability with a pen. His line work was tightly controlled and could successfully evoke lighting
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conditions and texture seemingly with ease but unlike Zimmerman most of Rountree's colour illustrations were fully fledged watercolour paintings and did not rely on line work for support. They were built up in a series of washes from the loosest of tonal beginnings to the highly resolved and vivid final piece. But when the job demanded it he also created more graphic flat colour work and he used his skills in both color and monochrome to evoke animal characters of astonishing plausibility whatever liberties he took with them. Wearing clothes for example or holding something they were not equipped to do. They appeared true to their actual anatomy in a way similar to and I would argue superior to that of Rountree's contemporary Beatrix Potter. He also produced many cartoons for Punch magazine, found time for the occasional
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piece of advertising work and numerous book illustrations for fiction writers including Arthur Conan Doyle. But it's no surprise that he had the greatest success with his illustrations of classics of children's literature including the Brer Rabbit stories, a playful retelling of Aesop's fables and a largely forgotten but visually remarkable interpretation of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. This consisted of mostly black and white spot illustrations interspersed with occasional dazzling full colour paintings all of which demonstrated Rountree's prodigious levels of skill and imagination, which makes it all the sadder and puzzling that success did not follow him into later life and Roundtree died in relative poverty and obscurity in 1950 When he's remembered at all Hungarian-born Willy Pogany is best
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remembered for his meticulously detailed pen and ink drawings of myths and fables such as the illustrations he created for Coleridge's Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner in 1910. And this success was closely followed by the Wagnerian epic poems Tannhauser, Parsifal and Lohengrin in subsequent years. All these were created while Pogany was living in London but in 1914 he moved to America and in the States his reputation and success blossomed considerably when his work was featured on the covers of many popular magazines. And he also found himself bombarded with offers of lucrative work in the increasingly pervasive world of advertising. Despite his early reputation as a classic pen-and-ink man Pogany was actually more stylistically diverse than most in his approaches to illustration. As well as the obsessively detailed and
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finely shaded ink drawings there were many others which were intentionally far simpler and stylized with a clean linear grace reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley. And it was a similar story with his colour work. Most of the time he would produce remarkably intricate atmospheric painting both with and without visible line work but later in his career he also adopted a flatter less anatomically correct style more in keeping with the Art Deco movement than his Art Nouveau roots. Like Rountree Pogany published a version of Alice in Wonderland in monochrome and colour but his adopted a particularly modernist look especially in the line work. Willy Pogany really was the ultimate creative Renaissance man. Besides illustration for everything from poems to posters and press ads he worked as a painter sculptor and stage designer and if that wasn't enough he also worked in Hollywood as an art director on
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several musicals during the nineteen thirties and forties. You have to wonder how such a prodigious and wide-ranging talent is now so far from being a household name. And last but nobody's idea of least is Arthur Szyk. He was a Polish illustrator who completely rejected the concept of modernism and instead emulated the techniques and mindset of medieval and renaissance painting, particularly illuminated manuscripts. His early work produced in Poland was mostly political in nature and only occasionally hinted at the remarkable illustrations which were to come. In 1921 syczyk moved to Paris and in 1925 he published the first of his major Illustrated works. This was the book of Esther from the Jewish Bible. This lavish full-colour book was a series of exquisitely detailed narrative images complete with complex border art.
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The style he established in this book and others from this period was quite formal and mannered similar to early Renaissance artists and like them it was the meticulous and painstaking application of colour which commanded the viewer's attention. Unusually Szyk worked on top of his precise drawings in both watercolour and gouache, producing a particularly effective balance of transparent and opaque colour. While in Paris Szyk also created a series of illustrations depicting the events of the American Revolutionary War as a tribute to George Washington and the USA in general. In 1934 he also began working on what was to be his most ambitious and time-consuming project - 48 narrative illustrations for the Haggadah the Jewish account of the exodus from Egypt. But at the same time his work became more politically engaged as Hitler rose
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to power in Germany. As a Jew and a Pole Szyk was predictably not the Nazis' biggest fan and he started applying his talents to a series of remarkably intricate and vitriolic satires of Hitler and his allies. Szyk had moved to london in 1937 and it was there that the Haggadah was finally published in 1940. According to the Times they pronounced it to be 'among the most beautiful books that the hand of man has ever produced'. It was also the most expensive, with each of 250 limited edition copies selling for £6000 each in today's money. And in the same year he moved to America where his work in general and political caricatures in particular found a far bigger audience through high-profile magazines such as Colliers. And even while producing these satirical attacks on the bad guys he was simultaneously working on several
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non-political volumes including the poems of Omar Khayyam and a typically extravagant and absorbing Illustrated collection of fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen. The character work and scenic illustrations he produced for Chaucer's Canterbury Tales were published just as the war ended and once the bad guys had finally been defeated Szyk used his talents and influence to help establish Israel in Palestine before he died in 1951. While rummaging around the internet researching for this video I was pleasantly surprised to discover there's an Arthur Szyk society dedicated to keeping his memory alive. And there are some websites and blogs featuring these and other unsung heroes so if you're interested in illustration and want to find out more about any of them I urge you to get googling. You never know who you might come across
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