Thursday, May 07, 2009

W Heath Robinson: The Water Babies

I've written before about my love of The Water Babies and of the early illustrations of Heath Robinson (before the contraptions). So clearly the combination of the two is one of my delights in life. These are not my scans and they are not the best quality but they will suffice for showing something of the genius which went into these illustrations. I have uploaded nearly 40 illustrations from the book to this Flickr set. I don't think I know another artists in the genre whose use of solid black and acres of white space was so assured. Heath Robinson, particularly in The Water Babies gives a bravura display of black and white illustration moving away from the fin-de-siecle decadence to something a little more humoured and delicate.
The first edition (Constable, London, 1915) is a highly desirable object. Even copies in poor condition, with missing plates, are being listed at £40-£80. Once in the realm of copies in very good condition we are talking £200-300 although the top of that range would be a bit ambitious. By this point in his career Heath Robinson was beginning to move away from the traditional black and white, and to find his style (and place in the language) as a creator as a creator of mad-cap inventions. I know the majority opinion is that this is when he came into his own but a look at his bibliography in The Guide to First Edition Prices shows that actually he was far more prolific before about 1920 than afterwards. His 'inventions' were really very late in his career. Happily for me the means a large number of more traditional illustrations to enjoy.

1 comment:

Neil said...

Thanks for the post. I just found the entire book (text and illustrations) scanned and available for no charge at the Internet Archive in .pdf and other eBook formats.

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