The art of Virgil Finlay, 1914–1971


Mrs Amworth.

Another great artist of the macabre and supernatural, Virgil Finlay was the one of the most talented and imaginative illustrators of his generation. Unlike older contemporaries such as Joseph Leyendecker, who became wealthy producing elegant yet often bland advertising art, much of Finlay’s best work was for pulp magazines like Weird Tales and Amazing Stories which paid a pittance and printed his finely-hatched scratchboard drawings on the cheapest paper. The advantages to this work, such as they were, came in the access to a huge and appreciative audience, and the chance to provide the first illustrations for what would turn out to be classic genre stories. Finlay illustrated a number of HP Lovecraft’s tales and received the highest praise from the author in doing so. His illustration for Lovecraft’s The Thing on the Doorstep (below) contains a slight nod to Harry Clarke’s Valdemar picture (see previous post) with its distant, highlighted doorway, a detail that Clarke himself borrowed from the celebrated Las Meninas by Velázquez.

Therionweb has five galleries of Finlay’s pictures and Bud Plant again has a brief biography.


Abercrombie Station.


The Thing on the Doorstep.


Six and Ten.

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The art of Harry Clarke, 1889–1931


The Masque of the Red Death.

Halloween approaches so let’s consider the finest illustrator of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories, Irish artist Harry Clarke. Aubrey Beardsley once declared “I am grotesque or I am nothing” yet even his grotesquery—which could be considerable—struggled to do justice to Poe. Clarke, the best of the post-Beardsley illustrators, found a perfect match in the Boston writer’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination, his edition being published by Harrap in 1919. He could decorate fairy tales with the best of the great Edwardian book illustrators but a flair for the morbid blossomed when he found Poe. Only his later masterpiece, Goethe’s Faust, improved on the dark splendour of these drawings. “Never before have these marvellous tales been visually interpreted with such flesh-creeping, brain-tainting illusions of horror, terror and the unspeakable” wrote a critic in The Studio.

Lots more pictures at Grandma’s Graphics (although none of the colour plates, unfortunately) including many of the Faust drawings. Wikipedia has photos of some of Clarke’s incredible stained-glass windows, as does Bud Plant’s biography page.




The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.

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The art of Nicholas Kalmakoff, 1873–1955


Astarte (1926).

Kalmakoff’s beautiful paintings turn up most often (if at all) in collections of Symbolist art although most of his work comes after the Symbolist period which was pretty much killed off by the revelations of Cubism. Like Harry Clarke, Kalmakoff is one of those artists who evidently felt that the aesthetics of the 1890s required further exploration; like Clarke there’s also some interesting occult illustration going on. Unlike Clarke (whose work appeared in lavish illustrated books and stained glass window designs) he had to contend with an art world that had little time for imagination unless it was presented in a Surrealist package. Kalmakoff’s fascinating story is detailed here and there are three galleries of his paintings here.

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Austin Osman Spare

Austin Osman Spare


Today is the 50th anniversary of the death of one of my favourite artists, Austin Osman Spare.

Like many people in the 1970s, I was introduced to the work of Austin Spare by Man, Myth and Magic, a seven volume “illustrated encyclopedia of the supernatural” published weekly in 120 112 parts by Purnell. My mother was a Dennis Wheatley reader so we had a couple of occult paperbacks in the house, among them one of William Seabrook‘s accounts of voodoo in Haiti and a copy of Richard Cavendish’s wonderful magical primer, The Black Arts, (later retitled The Magical Arts). Cavendish had been chosen as editor of Man, Myth and Magic and included occultist and writer Kenneth Grant on his editorial staff, a decision that gave the book’s producers access to Grant’s collection of Spare pictures. In a rather bold move, they launched Man, Myth and Magic in 1970 with a detail of a Spare drawing on the cover, a work often referred to as The Elemental although the authoritative Spare collection, Zos Speaks has it titled as The Vampires are Coming. It’s a shame that AOS didn’t live for a few more years to see this; after labouring in poverty and obscurity for most of his life he would have found his work flooding Britain, with this first issue on sale all over the country and the cover picture being pasted on billboards and sold as posters. It’s possible there were even television adverts for the book (although I don’t recall any), since there usually were for expensive part works like this.

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