Byam Shaw’s illustrated Poe

shaw01.jpg

There’s always more Poe. Selected Tales of Mystery was published in 1909, and is one of several illustrated editions produced by British artist Byam Shaw (1872–1919), a painter like Frederick Simpson Coburn who was better suited to the one-off canvas than the illustrated text. There ought to be a term for this kind of illustration—”The Easel School”, perhaps—in which all the techniques and staging of the academic artist are applied to stories or novels, techniques which too often lead to a succession of well-painted figures gesticulating to each other in well-painted rooms. The canvas painter in the first years of the 20th century was also subject to the limitations of print technology which at the time could only reproduce a narrow range of colours.

shaw02.jpg

William Wilson

The question of how best to illustrate a story using realism rather than stylistisation has been a recurrent one recently with regard to a commission of my own. I’ll be discussing this later but something that occurred to me while considering the issue was that illustrators today have access to a visual vocabulary derived from cinema that didn’t really exist until the 1920s. An artist like Byam Shaw would never think to depict a scene from a very high or very low angle, even though high- and low-angle views of dramatic scenes had been familiar to theatre audiences for many centuries. (He does use a high angle for A Descent into the Maelström but so do most artists who illustrate that particular story.) Virgil Finlay’s 1952 illustration for The Tell-Tale Heart is a cinematic view with its combination of flattened perspective and deep focus. In the same issue of Fantastic there’s an illustration by Gaylord Welker that could be a still from any film noir of the 1940s.

shaw03.jpg

The Gold Bug

Reservations aside, Shaw’s Poe is worth a look if only to see which moments he chooses to highlight from each of the stories…or those he doesn’t. One of the problems with illustrating a popular writer like Edgar Allan Poe is that you have the choice of attempting to compete with other artists by illustrating the same scene as everybody else or you avoid the obvious moments in favour of something new. Shaw had an advantage in working without the burden of precedent but his climax for The Masque of the Red Death is overwhelmed today by our acquaintance with Harry Clarke’s definitive illustration. The most original thing about the Shaw edition is its cover, with a trail of human and animal footprints spiralling into a maelström towards…what? A webbed foot? This curious design suggests a set of illustrations that the contents don’t deliver.

shaw04.jpg

The Fall of the House of Usher

shaw05.jpg

The Assignation

Continue reading “Byam Shaw’s illustrated Poe”

Weekend links 593

inlandprinter.jpg

Cover art by Gwinn (?) for The Inland Printer, October 1901.

The 50 British films that inspired a young Martin Scorsese. No Michael Powell (or Hitchcock, for that matter) but I think we’re supposed to take The Archers as a given. And he’s always had a commendable taste for British horror; few directors of Scorsese’s stature would put so many Hammer films and minor chillers on a list like this.

• New music: Grey Frequency return with Essentia, an album that explores “the connections and conflicts between internal and external worlds, and our sense of place and function in an unfathomable, transcendent universe”. Ideal Halloween listening, as is much of the Grey Frequency catalogue, especially Paranormal.

• “You don’t want to have a brilliant idea for a novel at the age of 87,” says Alan Garner. Justine Jordan reviews Treacle Walker, the novel in question, here.

In his gloomy tales, predominantly written in French, journalists disappear while hunting for esoteric secrets, ships sailing to mythic islands get lost in unreal waters, protagonists track down occult artefacts such as Dr Dee’s black spirit mirror, and the living wander down alleyways that lead to the hereafter. These are all unfaithfully retold in Ray’s uniquely arcane, often kaleidoscopic prose.

Robert Davidson on Belgian author Jean Ray

• “Poe brings forth, as if out of thin air, a grotesque world fully crystallized.” Sudipto Sanyal on you-know-who.

• At Bandcamp Ed Blair compiles a list of John Carpenter-like music beginning with an album from the man himself.

• At Wormwoodiana: Mark Valentine on the current condition of second-hand bookshops in Britain.

• Mix of the week: Samhain Séance 10: There and Back Again by The Ephemeral Man.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Terence Hannum presents…Horror Soundtracks Day.

• No One Here Knows I’m a Vampire: A Spooky Matt Berry Reading List.

• New/old music: Aqua by Ryuichi Sakamoto.

More dark arts at Unquiet Things.

Treacle Toffee World (1968) by The Fire | Treacle People (1970) by UFO | Woodsmoke & Treacle (2010) by Moon Wiring Club

The Purloined Eidolon

coburn.jpg

Dreamland by Frederick Simpson Coburn.

By a route obscure and lonely,
Haunted by ill angels only,
Where an Eidolon, named NIGHT,
On a black throne reigns upright,
I have reached these lands but newly
From an ultimate dim Thule—
From a wild weird clime that lieth, sublime,
Out of SPACE—Out of TIME.

Dreamland by Edgar Allan Poe

There’s always more Poe. Frederick Simpson Coburn was a Canadian artist who illustrated a 10-volume set of Edgar Allan Poe’s complete works in 1902, the collection being edited by Charles F. Richardson, and published in special editions with Poe-esque names such as “Arnheim” and “Eldorado”. Coburn was more of a painter than an illustrator so his full-page pieces tend to be stolidly professional in a manner that doesn’t really suit Poe’s fervid imagination. One exception is his illustration for Dreamland (aka Dream-Land) which would be more impressive if it hadn’t been so heavily “inspired” by a similar picture, The Black Idol or Resistance by František Kupka. Kupka’s picture dates from 1903 so it might seem at first that any suggestion of creative purloining should be dismissed (or even reversed) unless you know that The Black Idol was a slightly reworked version of a similar piece which appeared in a French magazine, Cocorico, in December 1900.

kupka.jpg

The suspicion of appropriation is reinforced if you also know that Kupka’s earlier work was one of two Poe-derived pieces published in the same magazine, and was itself an illustration for Dreamland, with the first few lines of the poem in the Mallarmé translation being printed underneath the drawing. Coburn grew up in Quebec and moved to Paris in 1896 to study art; he was still there in 1900. Circumstantial evidence this may be but we don’t need the services of Auguste Dupin to suppose that Coburn might have remembered an illustration from a French magazine when the Poe commission arrived a year or so later.

robinson.jpg

I’m not here to cast aspersions, the pressure of deadlines compelled me to swipe a chunk of Gustave Doré when I illustrated Poe myself a few years ago. I enjoy finding minor artistic connections like these, and the links between Coburn and Kupka are obscure enough that they probably haven’t been remarked on very much or even noticed until now. While we’re on the subject of dark eidolons, Dreamland was illustrated by William Heath Robinson in his own Poe edition in 1900. Robinson isn’t as sublimely grandiose as Kupka and Coburn but he also portrays Night as a literal figure. See the rest of his book here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Martin van Maële’s illustrated Poe
Narraciones extraordinarias by Edgar Allan Poe
Fritz Eichenberg’s illustrated Poe
The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope
Hugo Steiner-Prag’s illustrated Poe
Burt Shonberg’s Poe paintings
Illustrating Poe #5: Among the others
Illustrating Poe #4: Wilfried Sätty
Illustrating Poe #3: Harry Clarke
Illustrating Poe #2: William Heath Robinson
Illustrating Poe #1: Aubrey Beardsley
Poe at 200
The Tell-Tale Heart from UPA
William Heath Robinson’s illustrated Poe

Martin van Maële’s illustrated Poe

poe01.jpg

I’ve waited months to write about this book in the run-up to Halloween. Several years ago I wrote a series of pre-Halloween posts about the illustrators of Edgar Allan Poe, with the final entry containing a lone illustration for The Tell-Tale Heart by Martin van Maële (1863–1926). At the time van Maële’s book was unavailable online so I was left to wonder what the rest of his illustrations might be like. Dix contes d’Edgar Poe (1912) is the volume in question, a collection of moody full-page illustrations plus many small vignettes, all of them engraved on wood by Eugène Dété.

poe02.jpg

I’d been familiar with several other pieces from this book for many years without knowing their origin thanks to their appearance in the 1986 Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural, an excellent guide edited by Jack Sullivan with a minor deficiency in that many of the illustrations are uncredited. (They did credit van Maële for two of his pictures but spelled his name as “van Moële” which doesn’t help.) The startling picture of a skeleton pushing a shrouded woman back into her tomb—which I now know is van Maële’s portrait of Madeline Usher—was one of the uncredited drawings, as was the vignette of another skeleton holding a heart like a ticking pendulum (The Tell-Tale Heart again). There are many more skeletons in this book. Van Maële’s illustrations oscillate between two pictorial extremes, from shadow-filled realism in the full-page drawings to Doré-like spot illustrations that suit Poe’s fatalism and macabre sense of humour. It’s a shame that many of these reproductions are darker than they should be, being from the old series of Gallica scans which remove all the grey tones from the images, but at least we can see the book as a whole. My thanks again to Mr TjZ for alerting me to this!

poe03.jpg

The Tell-Tale Heart.

Van Maële might be better known today if more of the books he illustrated had been suitable for a general audience. In a reversal of the usual state of affairs most of his illustrated editions are the classic works of erotic literature by Apuleius, Choderlos de Laclos, Anatole France et al, plus obscure works devoted to le vice Anglais, while his non-erotic titles by Poe and Conan Doyle are in the minority. If he had a flair for the erotic then he also had a flair for the macabre. Some of his erotic drawings manage to combine the two, notably in La Grande Danse Macabre des Vifs (1905), a portfolio which approaches Félicien Rops by bringing to erotic art a quality of imagination that would usually be rejected for distracting from the primary purpose of pornographic imagery. Wikipedia has this and many more of van Maële’s erotic illustrations.

poe04.jpg

The Tell-Tale Heart.

poe05.jpg

Hop-Frog.

poe06.jpg

Silence.

Continue reading “Martin van Maële’s illustrated Poe”

Mask of the Red Death, 1969

mask.jpg

More animation, and more Edgar Allan Poe, although the story is reduced to a minimal trace in this 1969 short from the Zagreb animation studios. I’ve no idea whether the title is a misreading (or mistranslation) of Poe’s or a deliberate play on the masks used in the masque but I’ve gone with the most common labelling. Directors Branko Ranitovic and Pavao Stalter use a paint technique to sketch the stages of a tale that continues to resonate today. Watch it here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope
The Tell-Tale Heart from UPA