Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Tom Noddy’s Christmas Nightmare 1891 [2]

[1] 1877 — Nightmare!… Surreal caricature plus nonsense rhyme by George du Maurier, in Punch, 19 May. From his series: Vers Nonsensiques, à l’Usage des Familles Anglaises (Par Anatole de Lester-Scouère.)

Yesterday’s Papers. Today’s Views.
by Huib van Opstal

Never a photo in Punch. But before photography was ready for true reportage, illustrator-writer George du Maurier was a Punch reporter in near-realist pictures and words — ‘social pictorial satire’ he would call it later. He drew what he saw in London life and society, working either in pencil or in pen-and-ink, all of which was translated in print via wood.

The weekly satirical Punch paper in England used wood repro for more than fifty years, from 1841 until well into the 1890s, which was dangerously long.

[2] 1844Punch logo of sprouting wood (cover detail, the red was added later) by Richard Doyle.
George du Maurier drew his pictures in tonal renderings, with stronger outlines for central figures. For many of his illustrated stories, cartoons and strips, appearing in print since 1860, he penned captions that were comparable to stage instructions. Some in the form of what the French call a ‘fable express,’ a mini-fable. Some in the form of lengthy dialogues, romantic musings or satirical verse. In 1865 he wrote a series of complete mini-operas, brief textual spoofs, with some added illustration. He loved informal speech and joke spellings, quoted cockney French often, liked to be taken for a Frenchman, and always quipped in French himself. His targets were Victorian fashions, fears and follies. His titles ranged from What our Artist has to put up with, Chinamania and Aestheticism, to Things one would rather have left unsaid, Our Imbeciles and Nincompoopiana… 

[3] 1865L’Africaine, comic opera, in Punch, 20 May, by George du Maurier.
The pages of Punch contained more text than visuals. The arts, painting, literature and the theatre were highly valued. The humour we now see as mild and very cryptic; the satire in the early years was a little sharper. The staff was male and dressed like succesful gentlemen. Towards the 1860s a group of crack cartoonists — starting with Charles Keene, John Leech, George du Maurier and John Tenniel — perfected the visual part of the paper. And although wood repro had its side effects, much of the old Punch artwork did really look splendid.

His fellow cartoonist Charles Keene (1823-91) worked in a similar full-toned style but wasn’t as interested in drawing pretty women as was du Maurier. Keene’s Punch cuts resembled graphic translations of cinematographic principles well before 1890s cinema showed its first primitive signs of life. And Keene’s art still looks the liveliest; he knew where to stop and taught his fellow-artists a great deal. When Keene died in 1891, Punch hailed him as ‘…the greatest master of ‘Black-and-White’ technique who ever put pencil to wood-block…’

[4] 1876 — Last Match of the Season, in Punch, 11 March, by Charles Keene.
George Louis Palmella Busson du Maurier, his father French, his mother English, was born in Paris in 1834 and died in London in 1896. He was raised bilingually, English and French, in Belgium, England and France (Laeken, London and Paris). He loved singing, drawing and reading. But in Paris he soon came to hate his schoolmates. In Paris journals he also began to notice funny pictures — in La Caricature (on the stands since 1830) and Le Charivari (s.1832) — and began to get ideas himself. 

Back in England, in 1851-56, he dabbled in the study of science (for which his father made the arrangements), opera singing, and drawing from classical sculpture. He already knew Punch then, an English satirical weekly subtitled ‘the London Charivari’ (s.1841). After his father’s burial in 1856 he swiftly took the boat back to the Continent to study art, in Paris, Antwerp and Düsseldorf. Financially he was supported by his mother.

[5] n.d. — Self-portrait in watercolour by George du Maurier, and 1891 photo (details).
It was in the Belgian town of Antwerp, in 1858, at twenty-four years of age, that he lost the sight of an eye, his left eye, which threw him into a depression. Yet, while revalidating in the ‘dreary, deserted, dismal little Flemish town of Malines’ and intensely scrutinizing a copy of Punch’s Almanack for 1858, his dream of drawing and writing for Punch began to take shape. (It wasn’t until his first Punch Table dinner that he learned that the successful Punch artist John Tenniel was single-eyed too; later they would joke about their shared handicap together. Picture-journalist Arthur Boyd-Houghton (1836-75) was another successful artist with one eye who began his career by giving up painting.)

In Germany — where in 1859-60 he stayed with his mother, in the town of Düsseldorf — his lust for life returned after his German eye doctor assured him that his right eye would stay OK for as long as he needed it. He then further developed his skills in highest gear, drew and painted (not his forte) and while doing so discovered how much he loved powerfully illustrated German books and papers, such as the well-known Fliegende Blätter (1844, ‘flying sheets,’ weekly since 1849).

[6] 1863 — Mokeanna, Or, The White Witness. A Tale of the Times, in Punch, 28 February, spoof text by Francis Cowley Burnand, drawing by George du Maurier.
In London again since May 1860, he learned to draw directly on wood. His goal was to become an artist-contributor to Punch, which became increasingly illustrated with large and small ‘cuts,’ pictures printed via handcut woodblocks.

But du Maurier’s first illustrations saw print in another title from the same printer-publisher, titled Once a Week, a paper filled with illustrated serial fiction only. Soon after, his first cut in Punch appeared in October 1860. ‘…So badly engraved that I hardly recognised my drawing, none of the likenesses are preserved…’ A similar sort of professional distress he kept experiencing in endless repetition for the full thirty-six years of his career.

In his Punch cuts, he illustrated the life of the English middle and upper classes, because that was the niche editor Mark Lemon (1809-70) had placed him in. A large double-page spread, or a decorated initial letter to liven up a column of text, he drew anything. Within years he came to be seen as one of Punch’s finest.

[7a] 1865 — Ladies’ Morning Costume for 1866
[7b] … and Ladies’ Evening Costume, in Punch’s Almanack for 1866, December 1865, double drawing by George du Maurier.
For du Maurier a change of engraver could mean a change of style in print. He knew what he asked from his blockmakers, yet, he nevertheless remained a merciless crosshatcher and recrosshatcher in pen and ink. He loved his shadings and details, especially in his characters’ outfits — the black-clad males in chimney-pot hats and evening dress, the females in voluminous gowns and hairdos.

Some of his early book illustrations were done by repro men from different companies; and when they couldn’t cope with his dense detailing, he saw his work back in the shape of disastrous cuts. But drawings in scratchy style could work very well too.

[8] 1876 — Bella and Dusover. Gone Wrong! A New Novel. By Miss Rhody Dendron, in Punch, 13 May, spoof written and drawn by George du Maurier.
The wood engraving firm that did most of George du Maurier’s work was run by Joseph Swain (1820-1909). Swain had worked for Punch from early 1843, when he had just started his own independent workshop, and was the perfect guardian of any style commissioned. His shop excelled in reproductional engraving in both line and halftone blocks, cut in ‘line facsimile’ or in ‘tint’ manner. From the mid-1860s he also offered the use of photographic transfer onto the blocks, because speed was imperative for the pictorial press. Wood engravers tended to dislike photo-transfer though, because, while cutting, they also had to glance to and fro from the original art on paper to the block. An extra strain on their eyes and concentration.

[9a] 1891 — Tom Noddy strip. Original drawing in pen, ink and wash.
[9b] 1891 — Woodcut. Tom Noddy strip drawing reproduced via wood-engraving.
Initially Swain, as master engraver, worked in a small studio with a team of about half a dozen men, sitting together around a large table; subsequently he moved to a room of his own and began to employ more and more engravers. His firm was eventually housed at number 6, Bouverie Street, close to the Punch office at numbers 10 and 11, just off Fleet Street, in London’s publishing district. In the production line each repro man did what he did best; master engravers did the detailed work, apprentices began by cutting out the white spaces. The sawing, handling and storage of blocks was done by printer or publisher. When, in his earliest Punch years, du Maurier still drew on wood himself, messengers brought him new blank blocks in his workplace, at home, and picked up the ones already drawn.

[10] 1869 — A Study from the Parlour-window, in Punch, 16 January, by George du Maurier.
Joseph Swain took pride in his work and was often allowed to sign a corner of the cuts with a loud ‘SWAIN SC’ signature — ‘sc’ standing for ‘sculpsit,’ carved it — but for his employees he preferred strict anonymity. The quantity of Swain’s work can hardly be verified anymore. What is certain, though, is that a legion of anonymous engravers were at work for him. Joseph Swain’s brother John Swain (b.1829) also had a printing and engraving business in London; they may have combined their efforts.

[11] 1876 — “O Wild West Wind !”, in Punch, 24 June, by George du Maurier.
From the beginning of his career, du Maurier only had the use of one eye; which was the reason he abstained from drinking coffee and did not start on a painting career. (At least, that is what he told us. The world of painting remained closed to him.) He was an early chain smoker — cigarettes and cigars — and lover of all alcohol. In endless repetition he slaved away over paper and woodblocks, making his ‘innumerable little pictures in black and white’ as he called them. Besides his regular work for Punch he did numerous assignments for other papers and publishers. He was always ready to put up a fight for his fees. His most used signatures were ‘DM’ and ‘du Maurier’ — many of them carefully lettered on objects in his drawings. Living in upper London since 1869 his daily inspiration started with a cigarette and a walk on Hampstead Heath, still wide and open then. His regrettably few energetic depictions of weird nightmarish dreams and science-fictionlike visions are part of his most exciting work. In any case the pages of Punch still contain a great deal of hidden work by him, in several styles.

[22] 1872 — “Sweet Girl-Graduates” … Afternoon Tea versus Wine, in Punch’s Almanack for 1873, 17 December 1872, by George du Maurier.
In his drawings he often pictured himself, his friends and family, including his giant dog — a St. Bernard named Chang (1876-83) — who thus became something of a celebrity.

[12] 1877 — Georges du Maurier and his St. Bernard dog Chang, in Punch, 9 June (detail).
He had several artist friends but professional envy was inevitable. He fell out with one of his earliest friends, Jimmy Whistler (the American James Abbott McNeill Whistler, 1834-1903), who grew into a successful ‘high’ artist and feared critic, notorious for his book The Gentle Art of Making Enemies. Not having become a painter himself was a lifelong frustration for George du Maurier, but he managed to remain on friendly terms with most painters. Such as John Millais (1829-96), who annually earned tenfold what he was paid as an illustrator in wood. Or Edward Burne-Jones (1833-98), Pre-Raphaelite and ‘literary painter,’ who strongly disliked being lampooned by him.

Healthwise, what remained of his eyesight became problematic. As early as 1872 his eye doctor forced him to start making his original drawings twice as large. At times he even quit working altogether. He would have loved to become editor of Punch, but in 1880 saw Francis Burnand (1836-1917) become his new editor.

[13] 1867 — End of Mr. Titwillow in Paris, by George du Maurier, in Punch, 12 October.
George du Maurier was a married father-of-five — nicknamed ‘Kiki’ — who liked to picture his own life as being careless and free. See his Mr. and Mrs. Tom Tit, a strip from 1866 in family snap-shots, HERE.

[14] 1867 — Mr. Titwillow and Mr. Pip, aka George du Maurier and Oscar Deutsch. Decorated initial letter A with self-portrait.
A year later, in the hot summer of 1867, while his wife Emma stayed at the seaside in England with their children (two girls and one boy then), he went to see the large Paris exhibition in France, together with Oscar Deutsch, assistant librarian at the British Museum.

In a comic story about this event, du Maurier — formerly known as ‘Tom Tit’ — pictured himself as ‘Mr. Titwillow’ and Deutsch as ‘Mr. Pip’ (or ‘Uncle Pip’ or ‘U.P.’). It was published serially in Punch, largely under the title Mr. Titwillow in Paris. Oscar Deutsch (1829-73), who also was a Semitic scholar and writer, spent his time at the ‘Exposition Universelle 1867’ mostly on his own as du Maurier preferred wandering about the Paris of his youth.

[15] 1873 — ‘George du Maurier pelting Linley Sambourne for snoring,’ detail of a decorated initial letter, in Punch, 10 May, by Linley Sambourne.
Another bosom friend of du Maurier was Linley Sambourne (1844-1910), Punch artist since 1871, nicknamed ‘Sammy,’ who among other things shared his love for drawing beautiful women, especially young ladies in bizarre dresses and hats. As in his series titled Mr. Punch’s Dress Designs After Nature. 

[16] 1876 — Mr. Punch’s Dress Designs After Nature; Costume du Soir – Robe en Homard, in Punch, 11 March, by Linley Sambourne.
Writing about his work in 1890 du Maurier published a long article on the art of black-and-white illustration in The Magazine of Art, titled The Illustration of Books; from the serious artist’s point of view. For Harper’s magazine he wrote his first illustrated novel Peter Ibbetson in 1891. For Punch he made three Tom Noddy dream strips in 1891-93; in the same years he held lucrative lecture tours in England and Scotland talking about the work of his fellow-artists, texts published after his death as Social Pictorial Satire; Reminiscences and Appreciations of English Illustrators of the Past Generation. For these lectures he made use of lantern slides (called ‘limelight views’ by the press), and had his personal clue notes printed out by his agent in extra large type.

His profile of William Hogarth (1697-1764), combative British engraver, illustrator and painter, included the following observation about the realistic versus the comical:
‘Hogarth seems to have come nearer to [the] ideal pictorial satirist than any of his successors in Punch and elsewhere. For he was not merely a light humorist and a genial caricaturist; he dealt also in pathos and terror, in tragic passion and sorrow and crime; he often strikes chords of too deep a tone for the pages of a comic periodical.’

[17] 1869 — To Sufferers from Nervous Depression, in Punch, 1 May, by George du Maurier.
In the end, du Maurier lost most of his remaining eyesight, and on bad days drawing simply became impossible. In the final years of his life he frequently felt totally blind. Persistent migraines plagued him. When he was seen out in the streets he was wearing thick blue smoked glasses to make sketching bearable. Nervous and depressed, he made the huge mistake of giving up his beloved New Grove House in Hampstead in mid-1895 — his studio and family home since early 1874, and ‘a Kindergarten for all ages’ — for a lesser dwelling at 17, Oxford Square, in Paddington, near Hyde Park.

Writing saved him. In more than three decades as an illustrator he had analysed so many novels by so many literary authors, that he eventually produced them himself. To his surprise it made him a best-selling novelist of dreams, of the supernatural and science-fiction in the 1890s. First serially published, in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, his three finished novels were Peter Ibbetson in 1891, Trilby in 1894, and The Martian in 1896. He used settings and memories for them from his own youth on the Continent and his life as an art student in the Quartier Latin of Paris. These three self-illustrated novels left visible traces in popular culture, notably in plays and movies.

In both the US and the UK his tale of Trilby — with its central character ‘Svengali,’ a sinister hypnotist who controls the young girl Trilby and molds her into a famous singer — caused sensation and admiration and grew into a bestseller, causing a true ‘Trilby craze.’ But du Maurier, shying away from all the attention, unexpectedly passed away, only sixty-two years of age. His unfinished fourth novel he had set in Malines (Mechelen) in Belgium where he stayed as a depressed art student.

He died a reasonably prosperous man but never changed his old lamps for new ones. Gerald du Maurier (1873-1934), his youngest son, became a most succesful actor. And Daphne du Maurier (1907-89), Gerald’s second daughter, with novels and stories like Rebecca and The Birds, became a world-famous writer.

[18] 1891 — Tom Noddy page 1.
The original pictures for Tom Noddy’s Christmas Nightmare (1891) were drawn in pen and ink on seperate sheets of drawing paper, with the images nearly twice as high as the printed result in The Christmas Number of Punch and Punch’s Almanack for 1892, the fat Christmas special. Such originals you rarely see because most originals for woodprint have been thrown away; but these photo-transferred Tom Noddy drawings have survived. That the Chris Beetles Gallery in London put most of them on display last year was a pleasant surprise. Staff researcher Dennis Wootton listed them as fourteen separate drawings but left out the strip and the wood engraving aspects. Neither is the full title mentioned. A welcome revelation is: ‘The original drawings are inscribed with ‘(To be continued in Punch’s Almanack for 1893) / A Dream’.’ — which proves that du Maurier had already planned next year’s Tom Noddy instalment. See most originals for the first pages HERE. Also my earlier notes on this dream strip HERE.

Comic papers in the 1800s, the London published Punch weekly included, are full of men in white nightshirts, nightmares and visualized dreams. In Winsor McCay’s dream strips, in Sigmund Freud’s 1900 book Die Traumdeutung (about the interpretation of dreams), and in the works of the Surrealists.

The label ‘nightmare’ was already used around the year 1300; the Dutch knew it as ‘nachtmaar’ or ‘nachtmerrie’ in 1437. It was seen as a frightful female monster that could ruin your sleep. Later it was also visualized as a mare, a female horse.

An often imitated nightmare-with-a-horse scene by German painter Johann Heinrich Füssli, titled Der Nachtmahr, in several versions from 1781 to 1810, depicted a devil crouching on top of a sleeping female in white, and a mare’s head looking in from between the background curtains. Füssli came to England — where his work was adored — and rebranded himself there as John Henry Fuseli. English students kept calling him ‘Fuzzle’ or ‘Fuzzly.’

In 1877 George du Maurier rendered his own nightmare-with-a-horse version in Vers Nonsensiques, his Punch series of surreal caricature and nonsense rhyme. Already with a realistic streak, see picture [1].

[19] 1891 — Tom Noddy page 2.
The first half of du Maurier’s 1891 Punch dream strip is rendered in lots of black and shows a barefooted Tom Noddy — apparently sleepwalking — in a white nightshirt on muddy, gaslit London streets. The second half is done in lots of white and is set in a shiny, well-lit London ballroom. Four pages in which Tom Noddy — watched by several London policemen — enters ‘Mrs. Bonamy’s Small and Early,’ where he is invited to a waltz by a giant princess, and brought to his knees in a noisy nightmarish finale, bringing tears to the eyes of his fiancée. 

[20] 1891 — Tom Noddy page 3.
Small built as George du Maurier was, he had a soft spot for giants of any type, beautiful lady giants in particular. Drawing tall, beautiful women is what he liked most. ‘…The better-looking they are, the more my pencil loves them…’ So, Tom Noddy in nightshirt waltzes with a giant princess who ‘gets bigger and bigger’ — as does her exotic name … Princess Fredegunda zu Donnerhausen von Blitzenstein — while telling him he’s ‘ze Iteal of her kirlish treams…’

The strip’s style was a blend of caricature and surrealism, in medium and long shots, in a realistic setting, done in a very sketchy style. All its drawings were done via woodblocks, cut in a no-holds-barred way by one of Joseph Swain’s teams. Every tool seems to have been used — with little coordination between engravers: eight of the fourteen drawings are signed with du Maurier’s signature, but his name is lost in all the scratchings in the cuts.

[21] 1891 — Tom Noddy page 4.
Even while being photo-transferred, the surviving drawings still show small differences with the printed cuts in Punch. Reduced from the larger-sized du Maurier pen-and-ink originals, they were hand-engraved on a 1/1 scale. Sadly, du Maurier’s regular illustrations had become quite lifeless at the time. But he obviously enjoyed this somewhat livelier Tom Noddy strip. A seminal work in my opinion, as it provides a unique insight into the ways of a Victorian author-illustrator and his wood engravers. Complete with an in-joke too: the face of the speedy hansom cab driver is the face of Mr. Joseph Swain, hovering over Tom Noddy, asking for money Tom forgot — ‘Row!’

In the dying days of wood reproduction for print, the skills and pleasure were still there. Enjoy for instance how well du Maurier’s bending trees and the stroboscopic effect of the galloping hansom cab horse turned into visualized speed. And how it was translated in print — via wood.

Huib van Opstal

[ to be continued ]
[23] 1867 — Chikkin Hazard, in Punch, 9 May, illustrated novel spoof by George du Maurier.

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