Jan 292014
Lilly Library (photo by “Vmenkov”)

While researching Victor L. Whitechurch, whose books I am currently reading, I came across a fascinating post at the website for Indiana University’s Lilly Library which has one of the most remarkable collections of detective and crime fiction in the United States. Back in 1973 the library celebrated the 130th anniversary of the publication of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” with an exhibit entitled “The First Hundred Years of Detective Fiction, 1841-1941.”

Among the books are some other ephemera including the drawing reproduced below.  I’ve long known of G. K. Chesterton’s ability as a sketch artist and cartoonist but never knew that he was commissioned to illustrate an edition of Sherlock Holmes stories. Below is his rendering of the near fatal struggle on the cliffs of the Reichenbach Falls.

The note in the exhibit catalog accompanying this drawing says:

G. K. Chesterton was once commissioned to illustrate the Doyle stories (imagine Father Brown on Sherlock Holmes)! The volume was never published, but Lilly has his sketches, among them the Reichenbach scene, done in blue crayon.

The entire contents of the exhibit along with program notes are posted at the Lilly Library website here.  It’s an excellent resource for any devotee of the history of detective fiction. I’ve already made note of three writers who until I read the catalog I had never heard of. Unfortunately, the exhibit’s catalog notes for one of those writers ruined a book for me by revealing the ending.

 Posted by at 3:09 pm
Jan 122014

Work: Armadale by Wilkie Collins
(Harper & Brothers, 1866)
1st US edition

Artists: George H Thomas (drawings)
and William Thomas (engraving)

As a teaser for an upcoming review here are the illustrations taken from the original United States edition of Armadale. This mammoth novel was originally published serially in The Cornhill Magazine from November 1864 to June 1866. The illustrations used in both the first UK and US editions were taken from the magazine serial. While the UK first edition includes all the original illustrations by the Thomas brothers the US edition is missing about five drawings.

George Housman Thomas (1824-1867) studied wood engraving with George Bonner, set up an engraving business in Paris, and illustrated books for both American and British publishers. Some of his work is included in the Royal Collection in England. Perhaps his most notable work appeared in the first US edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. While living in New York for a brief period he was also contracted to engrave American banknotes.

William Luson Thomas (1830-1800) did the engraving and signed all the illustrations for Armadale. George, however, is credited as the primary illustrator on the title page of the first UK edition (Smith & Elder, 1866). William founded the illustrated newspaper The Graphic late in his life. Explaining the original concept of the paper he writes: “The originality of the scheme consisted in establishing a weekly illustrated journal open to all artists, whatever their method, instead of confining my staff to draughtsmen on wood as had been hitherto the general custom… it was a bold idea to attempt a new journal at the price of sixpence a copy in the face of the most successful and firmly established paper in the world, costing then only five pence.”

For detailed biographical information on William Luson Thomas go here. For the life of his brother George visit this website.

Click on the images below for full size appreciation.

 Posted by at 11:40 pm

Drawing on the Past #11: Edwin & Harold Betts

 333, adventure, Drawing on the Past, illustrations, lost race  Comments Off on Drawing on the Past #11: Edwin & Harold Betts
Jun 022013

Work: Prince Izon by James Paul Kelly
(A. C. McClurg, 1910)
Listed in 333, a bibliography of lost race, fantasy, super-natural and science fiction works.

Artists:  Harold H. Betts & Edwin Betts, Jr.

One of the many lost race novels that were popular from the late Victorian era through the early 20th century Prince Izon deviates from the usual African and South American tales and instead chooses for its setting the good ol’ U S of A. In the story Professor Raymon and his team of explorers, along with their American Indian guide, go in search of a forgotten tribe who are presumed to be living in the Grand Canyon in Arizona.  They get more than they bargained for when they encounter a tribe of Aztec warriors led by the title character.

Harold and Edwin Betts were the sons of Edwin Betts, Sr, a well established artist in Chicago who taught both his sons  and daughter Grace in painting. Edwin Jr. had an exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago in the late 19th century.  Other than that I could find little info about Edwin.  His brother, on the other hand, has a much more prominent presence on the internet.

Harold Betts was an illustrator for magazines and books and an accomplished landscape and portrait painter.  He traveled to the Southwest and began specializing in the Grand Canyon and its environs making him the perfect choice for illustrating Prince Izon. Like Edwin, Harold also showed his paintings at the Art Institute.  A list I found at the U. S. Department of the State website gives the dates of eight different exhibitions at the AIC. Many of Harold’s paintings are part of a large collection at the Smithsonian Institute and show he spent time in Rio Grande Pueblos from Taos to Santa Domingo; in Colorado Springs, Colorado; at the Grand Canyon, on the Navajo and Hopi reservations; and in Southern California.

Among the illustrations Betts did for books are Princess Sayrane by Edith Ogden Harrison and Ruth of the USA by Edwin Balmer.  All of the illustrations in Princess Sayrane can be viewed here.  Some of his paintings sold at auction can be seen at ArtFact, LiveAuctioneers, AskArt, and various other sites. Harold Betts’ work is collectible and found in numerous galleries and private collections throughout North America and Europe.

Below are the five full color plates found in my copy of Prince Izon.  Two — the one used for the plate on the cover and the frontispiece battle scene — are signed by Edwin Betts, the others are by his brother Harold.  Only the battle scene on the cliffside can be enlarged by clicking on the image.

 Posted by at 6:03 pm

Drawing on the Past #10: GILBERT JAMES

 book collecting, Drawing on the Past, fantasy, M R James, supernatural  Comments Off on Drawing on the Past #10: GILBERT JAMES
Feb 032013

Work: The Five Jars by M.R. James
(Edward Arnold & Co., 1922)

Artist: Gilbert James

The Five Jars is subtitled “Being More or Less of a Fairy Tale Contained in a Letter to a Young Person.” Its author M.R. James is better known as a writer of ghost stories for adults. Whether or not the story is truly intended for young people is a matter of opinion. The whimsical drawings by Gilbert James seem to imply that it is. A mix of the fanciful, the creepy, and the bizarre the story would appeal to any reader who appreciates the outre and the supernatural in fiction.

Once available only in its original rare 1st edition or the somewhat scarcer 1927 reprint (a copy of which I own and is pictured above) The Five Jars has been extensively reprinted in a variety of hardback and paperback editions. Numerous POD and eBooks make it even easier for anyone interested in reading the light and fanciful tale.

Below a sampling of the seven illustrations by James.  I found little on the artist other than that he illustrated in full color an edition of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (L. C. Page, 1899).

Click to enlarge any of the pictures below for better viewing.

 Posted by at 8:01 pm

DRAWING ON THE PAST: In Homage to Oscar Wilde

 book collecting, Drawing on the Past, illustrations, Oscar Wilde  Comments Off on DRAWING ON THE PAST: In Homage to Oscar Wilde
Oct 222012

It’s the 158th anniversary of the birth of one of my idols — Oscar Wilde. Ages ago (when I was still in high school!) I wrote my first thematic analogy paper that examined the similarities between The Picture of Dorian Gray and Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Little did I know that essay would eventually lead me into a world of similar content comparisons in crime and supernatural fiction. It seems to have become my trademark as anyone who reads this blog may have already discovered.
In honor of Oscar’s natal anniversary I offer up a variety of illustrations from his brilliant tale of terror and crime.

We start with the thoroughly aged and corrupted portrait as revealed in the final scenes from the 1945 movie adaptation starring Hurd Hatfield, George Sanders and Angela Lansbury. I believe this color photo was taken as a screen capture from the extras available on the DVD.  The film itself is in black and white and yet I found several color photos of Hatfield’s portrait both before and after the transformation.

Next, a young illustrator and art student who goes by the web name of “spyders”.  This brilliantly realized version was found at the website DeviantArt.

This one is by artist Stephen Alcorn as part of a series of relief block prints interpreting literary characters.

The Dell paperback version from the 1950s. The artist got it completely backwards here. Strange.

Another cartoon interpretation.  I was unable to identify the artist or its source.

From a graphic novel version of the book as retold and illustrated by Ian Edgington and Ian Culbard:

Artist Dan Hipp’s idea for a cover on a non-existent edition of Wilde’s novel.

Basil Hallward and Dorian admire the portrait before it begins its gruesome transformation. Taken from an illustrated edition, neither publisher nor artist was attributed on the website where I found it.  For shame.

And finally…a publicity still from one of the most infamous (and horrible) movie versions. An utterly wrong adaptation of the tale set in mod 1970 starring Helmut Berger and including various absurd sex scenes and lots of nudity. I like to think that Oscar would most likely have found this movie version  hysterically funny.

 Posted by at 5:19 pm

Drawing on the Past #8 – BORIS ARTZYBASHEFF

 book collecting, Charles Finney, Drawing on the Past, fantasy, illustrations  Comments Off on Drawing on the Past #8 – BORIS ARTZYBASHEFF
Sep 162012

Work: The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney
Publisher: Ben Abramson, 1945 (a reissue of the 1935 1st)
Artist: Boris Artzybasheff (1899 – 1965)

I first came to know of the work of Boris Artzybasheff through his dust jacket illustrations for Doubleday Doran’s Crime Club mystery novel imprint. He did nearly every book of Clyde Clason’s as well DJs for books by Stuart Palmer, Todd Downing and Aaron Marc Stein.  Those are the few who I can think of off the top of my head.  I’m sure there are more.

I always thought his trademark was fantastic surrealism. But he is a talented artist of many moods and styles. He illustrated several children’s books and even wrote a few of his own. Writing must be in the family genes — his father was noted novelist Mikhail Artzybasheff.

In my exhausting internet research on Boris (there is a wealth of info out there) I discovered a huge portion of his work was done for Time magazine.  Between 1941 and 1965 he did 215 covers, a mix of bizarre mechanical nightmares, humorous surreal illustrations, and surprisingly realistic portraits.  Among the more famous are his portraits are Josef Stalin, jazz musician/composer Dave Brubeck, and mystery writer Craig Rice.

For this post I have chosen some of his vividly imagined, other worldly drawings. To me it’s very reminiscent of the artwork of Hannes Bok of Weird Tales fame. The illustrations below are taken directly from an illustrated edition I own of The Circus of Dr. Lao, the allegorical fantasy by Charles G Finney.  It became a very different story in the 1964 movie retitled The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao with Tony Randall in the title role(s).  Click on images for full appreciation.

You can find all sorts of information about this artist all over the internet. But I recommend starting here for the best variety of his artwork.

The endpapers

 Posted by at 8:44 pm
Aug 052012

Work: Dr. Nikola by Guy Boothby
Publisher: Ward Lock, 1902 – a later edition
Artist: Stanley L. Wood (1867 – 1928)

To me Stanley Wood will always be remembered for the iconic portrait of Dr. Nikola. I know you’ve seen it. It’s what I use as my avatar over there to the right in the “About Me” section on this blog.  What surprised me was all the other work he is better known for.

Born in Monmouthshire in 1867 Wood traveled with his father a cement manufacturer to America in 1878. The family settled on a ranch in the Ute Indians territory of what would soon become Kansas. There is an amusing anecdote about how Wood’s mother tried to ward off the Ute Indians when he husband died.  You can read it here. Soon after her husband’s death, Charlotte Wood took her children back to England.  It was in London that Stanley became an illustrator for newspapers and magazines.

In 1888 he was sent to South Dakota by The Illustrated London News where he was better able to study the geography to give his work more authenticity.  Three examples of his western art can be found here, here, and here. From an art gallery website I learned this about Wood:

Book dealer Jefferson Chenoweth Dykes …wrote in Fifty Great Western Illustrators that “no better horse artist ever lived than Stanley L. Wood – there was more action in a Stanley Wood illustration than in the story itself”.

Later in his career Wood would also become well known for his military illustrations.  There are several websites devoted to displaying his work in this genre.  You can visit one of the best ones here.

Below are some excellent examples of Wood’s work taken form Dr. Nikola (originally published in 1896), the second novel about one of the first master criminals in all of fiction. As always, be sure to click on each picture in the tables to enlarge for full appreciation.

 Posted by at 5:15 pm

Drawing on the Past #6 – GORDON ROSS

 Drawing on the Past, Frederic Arnold Kummer, Gordon Ross  Comments Off on Drawing on the Past #6 – GORDON ROSS
Feb 122012

Work: Ladies in Hades by Frederic Arnold Kummer
(J. H. Sears & Co., 1928)
First American Edition

Artist: Gordon Ross (1872 – 1946)

I can find little biographical data on artist Gordon Ross, but a list of his work found in books is plentiful. Mostly his paintings and drawings turn up in various volumes of The Heritage Press and The Limited Edition Club, two subscription only book clubs started by publisher George Macy. The book clubs specialized in illustrated volumes of classic works of fiction and non-fiction. To this day are still a big hit with collectors — mostly because of the art work.

Unlike what I am posting here today some of Ross’ best work was done in color and can be found in such works as The Pickwick Papers (Heritage Club, 1938), The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent (Heritage Press, 1939), and The Sir Roger de Coverly Papers (Limited Edition Club, 1945). Also you can find his work in The Children’s Munchausen (Houghton Mifflin, 1921), and a color DJ for Pony Jungle (Doubleday Doran, 1941), a children’s book by Lavinia Davis.

Ross was born in Scotland in 1872. As a teenager he sailed to San Francisco where he studied painting and drawing at the Mark Hopkins Art Institute. He worked in the art department of the San Francisco Chronicle until 1904. Sometime in the late 1900s he moved to New York where he focused on book illustration. He died in New York City, the day after Christmas, in 1946. His work continues to show up in auction records year after year and sells well.

Below are the comic illustrations from a satiric novel by Frederic Arnold Kummer about the “wicked women of history” including Lillith, Salome and Delilah from the Old Testament; Cleopatra, Sappho, Helen of Troy from ancient history; and Lucretia Borgia from the Renaissance. The novel is subtitled “A Story of Hell’s Smart Set.” I’ve included the captions for each picture to give you an idea of the smart ass kind of writing to be found in the book.

And a little about the author (which I rarely do in this feature that’s supposed to be about the artist): Kummer wrote plays, the books to musicals and musical revues, straight novels, and humor, but I tend to know him as a writer of several crime and adventure novels. He began writing genre fiction which was serialized in pulp magazines under the pseudonym Arnold Fredericks. Kummer then dropped that and used his own name for his final two detective novels The Scarecrow Murders and The Twisted Face featuring Judge Henry Tyson (soon to be reviewed here).

As usual I suggest you click on the photos to enlarge for better appreciation. I don’t use that slide show feature, so clicking will give you a very nice sized photo.  Plus, you can’t read the often funny captions unless you enlarge. So click away!

 Posted by at 4:50 pm