Tuesday, September 22, 2009

William Baxter (1856-1888)

William Giles Baxter was born of English parents in the south of Ireland in 1856 and spent his childhood in America and Derbyshire. His father had failed in establishing a factory for the making of starch from potatoes. After the death of his father he was apprenticed to a Manchester architect. When his indenture period was over he abandoned architecture for art, and at the age of twenty-one published a series of lithographic pictures entitled “Buxton Sketches.”

Baxter first attracted notice in 1879 when he established the weekly comic periodical Comus (afterwards altered to Momus,) published in Manchester. He specialized in comic portraits and drew a series of nearly life-sized heads called “Studies from Dickens” for that paper. When Momus failed in 1883 he moved to London where with a friend and brother artist he designed political and humorous Christmas cards. 

Baxter began contributing to Judy; or, the London Serio-Comic Journal, under Charles Henry Ross, but really came to prominence on Ally Sloper’s Half-Holiday published by Gilbert Dalziel. Baxter breathed new life into CHR’s creation Ally Sloper with his large, masterly full-page cover illustrations and double-page interior spreads. Later he seceded from that journal and in conjunction with C. H. Ross, creator of Sloper, he started Choodle, which had a short life due to a breakdown in the artist’s health.

Like Ross he was an amateur actor. He died at age 32 on 2 June 1888 of ‘rapid consumption.’ In August 1888 Gilbert Dalziel issued from 99 Shoe-lane “Fifty Sloper Cartoons,” for a shilling, as a souvenir of the late artist. In June 1889 Baxter’s work was exhibited at the Royal Institute, Picadilly “Works of English Humourists.” The show had only a few works by Hogarth but devoted an entire gallery to the work of Thomas Rowlandson. Also featured were works by Cruikshank, Leech, Phiz, Seymour, Furniss, Tenniel, Sambourne, Keane, Fred Barnard, Charles Green, and Du Maurier. At the same time Cassell’s put on a black and white exhibition of magazine illustrators at the Memorial Hall on Farrington-street.

*Baxter letters courtesy Don Kurtz


  1. How exactly did Baxter prepare his drawings for print? He writes of sending a "block." Did he draw directly on the wood which was to be engraved?

    My understanding of the workflow of pre-photo-engraving magazine publishing is hazy. When I saw some of Dore's original wash drawings alongside their engraved versions, I was astonished how much engraving changed the originals. They hardly looked like the same illustrations.

  2. Most likely he drew directly on the block and sent it post-haste to the sub-editor by printer's devil. I have a part of an illustrated contemporary article which explains the process in detail which I'll try to dig up. On my latest Harry Furniss post you can compare his pen and ink work and the finished wood engraving.