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28 March 2018: The Illustrations of Hugh Thomson

The Illustrations of Hugh Thomson 

This month we are focusing upon the Irish born illustrator Hugh Thomson. Whilst Thomson had no formal artistic training, his pen-and-ink illustrations in works by authors such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and J. M. Barrie are synonymous with the works themselves. Thomson began  his career working for the British publishing company Marcus Ward and Co, who are best known for their highly illustrated works for children and adults, as wells as their decorative greeting cards. Thomson joined the company at just seventeen but soon became an influential figure within the company. In 1883 Thomson became a leading contributor to The English Illustrated Magazine, collaborating with other well-known authors such as Randolph Caldecott and Herbert Railton. In 1911, Thomson and his family moved from London to Sidcup due to illness. During WWI, Thomson’s work changed, and he began producing a number of propaganda pamphlets alongside private commissions. He passed away in 1920.  

Thomson’s pen-and-ink style was utilised in a variety of literary works. Perhaps his most successful contribution was to Mrs Gaskell’s ‘Cranford’. The popularity of this edition led to other publishers also producing a series of books in the distinct highly decorative green cloth binding. The success of Cranford also led to Thomson being asked by George Allen and Co to produce a series of illustrations for Pride and Prejudice.  His illustrations were again a huge success and in the first year of publishing sold over 11,000 copies. Thomson later went on to illustrate Austen’s five other novels, this time commissioned by Macmillan and Co.

 

We are lucky enough to have a wide variety of works that feature Thomson’s illustrations. Below are a few examples of his wide scope of work, all with his distinct artistic style. 

 

1894 Cranford by Mrs Gaskell Illustrated Pictorial Cloth Hugh Thomson Satirical

 

This copy of Cranford has the distinct decorative green cloth binding synonymous with Thomson’s editions of the work. Cranford is a collection of satirical sketches sympathetically portraying the change and development of small town customs and values in England. This satirical style is perfectly reflected in Thomson’s artistic contributions. 

 1891 Mrs Gaskell Cranford Illustrated By Hugh Thomson Ltd Ed Large Paper Copy

 

This beautiful version of one of Thomson’s most well-known set of illustrations is an unusual limited edition large paper copy of the work with a print run of just three hundred. As with the green cloth edition of the work, this copy is replete with Thomson’s distinct style. This particular edition also comes from the library of Hugh Selbourne, a noted book collector and diarist.  

1898 5vol Works of Jane Austen Northanger Abbey Persuasion Pride and Prejudice

 

This beautifully bound collection of Jane Austen’s six major novels, bound in five, contains some of Thomson’s most well-loved drawings, and is complete with forty illustrations to each volume. This uncommon uniform collection of Austen’s works also includes lengthy introductory essays before each novel. Austen is still an immensely popular and well-read author, with her overarching themes of the complexities of society still very much relevant.  This set is bound in contemporary half calf bindings with marbled boards and gilt detail. 

1910 The Merry Wives of Windsor William Shakespeare Illustrated Hugh Thomson

 

In this illustrated edition of The Merry Wives of Windsor, Hugh Thomson utilised the advancements in printing technology to provide a plethora of full page and vignette colour illustrations to of one of Shakespeare’s comedies. As with his illustrations for Austen’s works, Thomson’s illustrations reflect the themes of class and society that are prevalent in the play. 

 

1906 Scenes of Clerical Life George Eliot Illustrated by Hugh Thomson

 

‘Scenes of a Clerical Life’ was Eliot’s first published work of fiction and is a collection of three short stories. First published in Blackwood’s Magazine over the course of a year, this decorative edition is renowned for its beautiful decorative gilt boards and illustrations by Hugh Thomson. 

 

1899 Peg Woffington Charles Reade Signed Letter Austin Dobson Illustrated

 

This attractive copy of Peg Woffington by Charles Reade contains many of Thomson’s decorative vignette illustrations. This particular copy is exceptional in that it also contains a handwritten note by from the author tipped in to the front pastedown. Reade was a renowned English novelist and dramatist. The work is also bound in a charming half morocco binding. 

 

1931 Hugh Thomson His Art His Letters His Humour and His Charm Speilmann Jerrold

This fascinating critical work explores Thomson’s life and work, and is replete with thirteen full page colour plates demonstrating the scope and influence of Thomson’s illustrations. This particular copy is the first edition of the work and comes from the library of David Gilson, a noted bibliographer. Gilson is perhaps best known for his bibliography on the works of Jane Austen, for which Thomson provided many illustrations. 

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