While everyone has heard of Blake, William Morris, Walter Crane and Rackham, many have not heard of these five, prolific illustrators. Meet: Herbert Granville Fell, Anna Whelan Betts,Leon Underwood, Samuel Palmer, andMargaret Rebecca Dickinson.
Herbert Granville Fell (1872-1951)
Active from about 1895 onwards, Fell’s style closely resembles the curvilinear style of William Morris than that of his more famous contemporary Walter Crane. Books illustrated by Fell include versions of Cinderella, The Book of Dragons (1900) by E. Nesbit, Wonder Stories from Herodotus and the anonymous Sir Thomas Thumb, or The Wonderful Adventures of a Fairy Knight (1907). and others.
Beautiful as the merely ornate parts of Fell’s decoration are, it is not the quality of beauty alone which differentiates him from contemporaries such as Walter Crane and William Morris. While Fell’s decorative work was not always met with high praise, his critics were always sure to point out the impactful, imaginative qualities which rendered his drawings specially notable. The feeling for beauty in his work is strong—border, heading, tail-piece, and lettering work harmoniously in many of his memorable compositions. Even when depicting horrific scenes (as in the case of the spider) Fell does so with the utmost grace.
Anna Whelan Betts (1873–1959)
Not much is known about Betts, one of Howard Pyle’s most famous students. Betts was born in Philadelphia and went to school there, studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts under Robert Vonnoh. She then attended Howard Pyle’s classes, first at Drexel Institute and later in Wilmington, Delaware. Through Pyle’s contacts, she and several fellow students were commissioned to illustrate a serial story for Collier’s magazine. After its publication, she found assignments from other magazines as well, and over the years worked for St. Nicholas, Harper’s Monthly, The Ladies’ Home Journal and The Century magazine. Her work was characterized by its great beauty and sensitivity to the Victorian female aesthetic.
Leon Underwood (1890-1975)
Leon Underwood was a Renaissance Man.He dabbled in all aspects of design, including industrial design. He was a noted British sculptor, painter, draughtsman and engraver as well as a writer and illustrator, scholar, teacher, philosopher and stained glass and furniture craftsman. He attended the Slade School of Art and founded the magazine The Island in 1931. His work was heavily influenced by African and Cycladic designs.
His lifetime´s work includes a wide range of mediums and activities, and an expressive and technical mastery in what was at the time a ground breaking approach. In the 1920s and 30s his work found new direction thanks to his extensive travels abroad.
Samuel Palmer, (1805-1881)
Palmer was the son of a bookseller and became an artists at a very young age. In 1822 he met John Linnell, the British landscape painter, who introduced him to William Blake. The two struck an immediate friendship centered on their love for art and engravings. Blake encouraged young Palmer to look at Dürer’s prints and stimulated the visionary qualities of his work.
Palmer painted familiar scenes – trees, villages, the night sky – but using rich forms and vivid colours. Many are surprised that works that look so bold and modern were painted nearly two centuries ago. Palmer’s early work was partly shaped by his interest in the ‘primitive’ artists of the fifteenth and sixteenth century. The linear designs of his early work attempt to emulate the qualities of earlier woodcuts. After 1826 he developed a freer and more tonal manner.
For a time, he lived in the Kent village of Shoreham, whose surrounding countryside became his ‘Valley of Vision’. He purchased a run-down cottage, nicknamed “Rat Abbey”, and lived there from 1826 to 1835, depicting the area as a demi-paradise, mysterious and visionary, often shown in sepia shades under moon and star light. In Shoreham he was often visited by Edward Calvert, George Richmond, Francis Oliver and Frederick Tatham. Palmer and his friends formed an artistic circle and called themselves the ‘Ancients’, because of their shared admiration of earlier artistic movements.
While at Shoreham he fell in love with the fourteen-year-old Hannah Linnell,daughter of his mentor, whom he later married. In 1837, Palmer and his new wife spent an extended honeymoon in Italy, after which he practiced as a watercolour painter and teacher. In Italy Palmer’s palette became brighter, sometimes to the point of garishness, but he made many fine sketches and studies that would later be useful in producing new paintings. On his return to London, Palmer sought patrons with limited success. For more than two decades he was obliged to work as a private drawing master, until he moved from London in 1862.
In his later years, Palmer suffered a series of personal hardships – including the death of his favourite son – and ended his life living as a recluse. Samuel Palmer was largely forgotten after his death, but many scholars consider Palmer an overlooked genius.
Margaret Rebecca Dickinson (1820-1918)
While many of us have seen Dickinson’s work, not all of us know the talent behind the illustration. Margaret Rebecca Dickinson was a botanist who collected plant specimens from all over Britain and illustrated them in exquisite detail. She lived most of her life in Cumbria and Northumberland, and worked on her collection mainly between 1846 and 1874. Among her most important specimens were many scarce orchids from Kent. Dickinson pursued her interest in botany during a time when it wan’t generally recognized as a science. The range of specimens she collected on her extensive travels is nothing short of extraordinary–an accomplishment that suggests an informed dedication not typical of the average hobbyist. Dickenson kept meticulous records and observations. In another era, Dickinson’s work might have been better appreciated and seen as a valuable contribution to society. Though the “science” of botany began to find traction in her lifetime, it became the domain of men. She never married and died at age 98 in Northumberland.