The art of John Austen, 1886–1948


A few drawings by British illustrator John Austen (1886–1948), like Patten Wilson another artist whose work is hard to come by today. Austen was one of the many young illustrators over whom Aubrey Beardsley’s etiolated shadow fell from 1900 onwards and it’s the first ten years of Austen’s work I find most interesting, mainly because of the Beardsley stylings. He’s not as original or as elegant as Harry Clarke but he’s a lot better than the frequently overrated (yet interesting for other reasons) Hans Henning Voigt, or Alastair as he preferred to be known.


The first two drawings here are from copies given to me years ago without any details of provenance although the Oriental setting points to illustrations for The Arabian Nights. The Hamlet pictures that follow were from an illustrated edition from 1922. After this Austen’s style changed as the Beardsley look became increasingly unfashionable. While artists such as George Barbier took Aubrey’s innovations in a new Art Deco direction, Austen followed a different trend of stylisation that was very popular among illustrators of the 1930s. His work is less compelling from that point on but I’d still be happy to see a decent collection of his work in book form.

See also:
Bud Plant’s John Austen page
John Austen’s Hamlet (better copies than those here which I missed originally)
John Austen’s ABC of Pen and Ink Drawing (1937)





Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
T&H: At the Sign of the Dolphin
Alla Nazimova’s Salomé
Austin Osman Spare

16 thoughts on “The art of John Austen, 1886–1948”

  1. The hack director’s and “artists” in general of today, and keep in mind I say in general John, lack the power and intuition, that is to say, to be tune with their senses from graphic to subtle, not to mention the skill necessary to show what is commonly seen as atrocity in its bloody seductiveness at a most innocent level. Especially up top, with what appear to be severed women’s heads presented in a format suited for books of beddy-bye tales for tykes.

    Such books are often beautiful, but I am unable to force continuing interest (yes, I am a hick by definition, guilty as charged), unless their attractive format is used to depict particular things I find very pleasing to the eye, things that most parents think would shock or harm their children, regardless of their stances or leanings. I could speak for most young men I know personally, to say that most boys probably think of some beastly shit before they ever consider silly, equally irrational adult things like finding the girl of their dreams or any of the other crap used in day care propaganda films.

    Back to my original thought, there aren’t nearly people who can be considered spellbindingly creative with death. Everyone’s talking to me about Saw or Hostel sequels, and the directors can kiss my ass as far as I am concerned because they’re nothing more than sub par recyclers of ground already long broken, yet gaining all the credit because subtitles and foreign languages hurt yuppies’ heads. Ah, we all know, its these people and their nano-second attention spans who ultimately determine what constitutes a great storyline.

  2. John

    Thanks for these – absolutely excellent. Here’s a man, like Beardsley, unafraid to leave some SPACE in his work. I agree, not as original, elegant nor as demented (I’m thinking the Rue Morgue illo here) as Harry Clarke could be, but still infused with the stark power that only black & white illustrations retain.
    This material begs for a handsome book collection – come on Taschen, sort it out!

  3. Taschen might have done a book about artists from this period at one time but I doubt they would now, more’s the pity. They seem to have narrowed their focus to popular names and contemporary art.

  4. Yeah I have a smaller edition of the old Faust book with Clarke’s pictures pictures in it. I’d look for the larger editions but they’re too expensive. I could easily see Jodorowsky being inspired by such illustrations, if any of those rumors about another movie are true, but I’ve also heard marilyn manson wants a part, and that is more than a little discouraging. If Ken Russell had made a few of his odder movies with a larger budget, the imagery would have matched up pretty well with Faust’s.

  5. I’ve got a reprint of the Faust drawings but it’s not so good with the colour pictures which have simply been copied straight from faded printings. The colour work in my other Clarke books is a lot brighter.

    And I have a first edition of his Swinburne volume but the swine who owned that before me chopped out the colour plates so it’s missing some of the best drawings, a common problem with old illustrated books. Always check first if you see something for sale! Still nice to have though as the black and white printing is very sharp and clear.

  6. It’s ‘Selected Poems of Algernon Charles Swinburne’. 1928 published by The Bodley Head.

  7. Where can I get John Austen art posters depicting scenes from Shakespeare’s plays? Please advise.

  8. I’ve no idea where you’d find posters of Austen’s work seeing as he’s a rather neglected artist now. The pictures here are some of the few I’ve seen anywhere. If posters existed I would have been happy to make a link to them.

  9. I am looking for vintage posters by John Austen, particularly those designed for Shakespearean drama. Any idea where I can find these? Please relay info to:

  10. I’ve recently acquired a John Austen printed, signed and titled “Paris”, no.1 of an ed of 25, not dated. Can you tell me more about it? I would suggest it’s a later work – very strong and clearly not at all influenced by Beardsley!

  11. Hi Heather. I’m afraid that what I know about John Austen is limited to what you see here and the links above, of which the Bud Plant one is the most informative.

  12. I have 3 antique John Austen posters depicting Shakespearean drama. One is slightly (barely noticeable) water stained. These are originals. First $15,000 (U.S.) takes them. Please inquire at (915) 309-0947 or at:

  13. i would have to disagree with your statement of him being better than Alastair.
    maybe it is because I am a huge fan but also because Alastair’s drawings are about poetry and dramatics. this artist is talented but better than Alastair? no

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