As a child I looked at the illustrations of books before I read them. I had a guilty feeling that this wasn’t the right thing to do and indicated laziness and a lack of seriousness, but I now realise that my imagination was visual, maybe even hyperphantasic. Talking to my brother recently about the books we read as children, I was surprised to find that these illustrations made little impression on him, but several impressed me greatly and I’ve remembered the artists ever since, even when I’ve stopped liking the books.
Maxwell Armfeld’s art nouveau-ish illustrations to Hans Anderson, in line and colour, published in 1910, perfectly matched the cruel and magical mind of the author. His depictions of the tortured Girl Who Trod on a Loaf and Mermaid were, to me, inseparable from the narratives.
Later I discovered Rex Whistler’s Anderson, far superior artistically, (below) but I still picture Anderson’s tales like Armfeld did. Apart from recognising Anderson’s sadism I now find his moralising intolerable, but some of his best stories, like The Steadfast Tin Soldier and The Snow Queen, still resonate.
R.S.Sherriffs’ strong graphic style jumped out at me from a now almost-forgotten book of short stories. His still-remembered picture calls to mind an episode in which a military officer rides through the street ogling the girls. Only through my memory of the picture do I remember that I’d never come across the word “ogling” till then and wasn’t sure what it was or how he did it.
Sherriffs was a perceptive caricaturist who did a few children’s books and was one of the artists who introduced me to the potential of illustration. My liking for him was reinforced by his vignettes in Punch (above), which I came across in the doctor’s waiting room. His style was perfectly suited to the Rubaiyat (top) and made a lovely edition.
As it happens, the mocked and maligned Ladybird books employed illustrators with a talent for literal representation, which, in the case of their natural history titles, like What to Look For in Spring/Summer/Autumn/Winter (below) was wholly appropriate, and brought in Royal Academician Charles Tunicliffe, a wildlife illustrator who specialised in birds. He did pictures for Brooke Bond tea cards and the RSPB magazine as well as the Ladybird books and introduced me to the wonderful potential of both natural history and illustration. The RA had an exhibition of his work in 2017.
I loved Enid Blyton’s Adventure books between the ages of 10 and 12 and was quite indifferent to the weakness of her plots and characterisation, to say nothing of her casual racism. But even more than the stories I loved the illustrations by Stuart Tresilian (below) and studied them closely. Tresilian, the son of a clerk, studied at the RCA (as did Tunicliffe) and taught at the Regent Street Polytechnic. He was a member of the Art Workers Guild and the Society of Graphic Artists and became respectively Master and President. He is well known for his illustrations to Kipling and also did work for educational natural history publications. He is the least of the illustrators mentioned here, but I wasn’t so discriminating at the age of ten and liked his work a lot.