Rossetti and His Circle by Max Beerbohm


Rossetti’s name is heard in America (Oscar Wilde).

The Happy Hypocrite was Max Beerbohm’s words illustrated by George Sheringham; here we have Beerbohm’s caricatures from a 1922 collection depicting notable figures among the Aesthetes and Pre-Raphaelites from the 1860s on. Beerbohm wasn’t born until 1872 so there’s something of a younger generation’s mockery in these drawings. That said, he was just as happy to mock his London friends of the 1890s, Oscar Wilde included, and often poked fun at himself in his cartoons and his writings.

Some of the pictures in Rossetti and His Circle are familiar from books about the period, the Wilde picture in particular is often reprinted. You don’t always see them in colour, however, so once again the scans at the Internet Archive give us a fuller view provided you ignore the security perforations on each print.


Blue China (JM Whistler and Thomas Carlyle).

A drawing which complements Wilde’s description of Whistler as a “miniature Mephistopheles”. Beerbohm was more succinct in one of his verbal portraits: “Tiny”.


Algernon Swinburne taking his great new friend Gosse to see Gabriel Rossetti.

Swinburne, it seems, was another diminutive figure.


The sole remark likely to have been made by Benjamin Jowett about the mural paintings at the Oxford Union: “And what were they going to do with the Grail when they found it, Mr. Rossetti?”

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Happy Hypocrite by Max Beerbohm

The Happy Hypocrite by Max Beerbohm


The spirit of the 1890s persists in this 1915 edition of a story the splendid Max wrote originally for The Yellow Book in 1896. Originally subtitled “A Fairy Tale for Tired Men”, The Happy Hypocrite is a typically light-hearted affair concerning the misadventures of one Lord George Hell. The setting is the Regency era so beloved of many of the London Decadents, Aubrey Beardsley included, and the rather fine illustrations are by George Sheringham whose style was distinctive enough to avoid any Beardsley pastiche. The copy preserved at the Internet Archive includes a number of full-colour plates but time and the vicissitudes of reproduction haven’t done them any favours, hence the concentration here on the monochrome drawings.



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The art of George Sheringham, 1884–1937


Baptism of Dylan, Son of the Wave from The Cauldron of Anwn (c. 1902).

About the artist:

George Sheringham was born in London. He studied art first at the Slade School (1899–1901) before leaving for Paris, where he studied from 1904–1906. Chiefly known as a designer of stage sets and decorative artist he was also illustrator of works by Arthur Conan Doyle and Max Beerbohm. He was the author of Drawing in Pen and Pencil (1922) and Design in the Theatre (with James Laver, 1927). An invalid from 1932, he continued to paint flowers until his death.

About the work:

This striking series of paintings were commissioned by the 8th Lord Howard de Walden (Baron Seaford) to illustrate his Celtic poem, The Cauldron of Anwn. It has been suggested that they were part of a decorative sceme for de Walden and it is therefore likely that they were part of his remodelling on the interior of Seaford House in Belgravia which he undertook from 1902 onwards. The modifications at Seaford House included the panelling of the dining room and installation of an onyx staircase and frieze carved from marble imported from South America. No expense was spared and it is said that to ensure a supply of the right kind of marble, Baron Seaford bought the mine.

The series of The Cauldron of Anwyn reflects Sheringham’s interest in oriental ornamentation and also reflects modern approaches to book illustration. A close comparison can be drawn between Sheringham’s work and that of Edmund Dulac and Sheringham’s work is also suggestive of a more exotic continental approach to decoration. Sheringham had studied at the Slade School between 1899 and 1901 and in Paris between 1904 and 1906. The qualities of his work were recognised in Paris before they were in Britain and his first exhibits were at the Paris Salon. He was born and lived in London all his life and became well known as a decorative artist, applying his talents to costume and scenery design for various theatrical productions. He also illustrated many books including The Happy Hypocrite and Design in Theatre and this interest in intricate decoration was transposed into his interior design work.

The Cauldron of Anwyn at ARC.

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