Non-Punch Work

Apart from his work on Punch, Linley Sambourne undertook commissions, a lot of this wasWater Babies Illustration (click for more) undertaken early on in his career and as his financial position became secure, he appears to have done very little work apart from Punch cartoons.


The first book he illustrated was ‘A New History of Sandford and Merton’ which was written by his friend, F C Burnand, in 1872. Two years later he illustrated ‘Our Autumn Holiday on French Rivers’ by James Molloy. The book, an entertaining account of a holiday undertaken by Sambourne and Molloy. Then followed in quick succession books about a holiday in the Scottish Highlands and another in Venice. Though Sambourne is probably best known for his illustrations for ‘The Water Babies’ by Charles Kingsley (see right). This book was published in 1885 and many commentators feel these drawings represent Sambourne’s best work, having charmingly capture the spirit of the book, In 1887 Hans Andersen’s fairy tales appeared with Sambourne’s illustrations, but this appears to be the end of his career in book illustration, which he clearly found a great strain as he was almost incapable of working without a deadline and some of these books took years for him to produce illustrations for.


Illustration for 'The British Workman' 1886Sambourne undertook various other commissions for other magazines, certificates, diplomas, advertisements and so on. His work appeared in the Pall Mall Magazine, for which he drew the cover for the first issue in May 1883, in 'The British Workman' (left), he designed the invitation for the Lord Mayor’s Banquet, a certificate for subscribing to the Gladstone memorial fund, but his most noteworthy work in this category must be the Diploma for the Fisheries Exhibition in 1883. This diploma seems to epitomise his style. Sir John Tenniel said of it ‘It is of absolutely inexhaustible ingenuity and firmness. His diploma for the Fisheries Exhibition almost gave me a headache to look at – so full, cram-full, of suggestion, yet leaving nothing to the imagination, so perfectly and completely drawn, and with a certainty of touch which baffles me to understand how he does it.’  


Tenniel is not the only one of Sambourne’s contemporaries to praise his work highly. G F Watts is reputed to have said that he would willingly sacrifice his ability in painting to possess Sambourne’s power in line drawing. ‘That wonderful hand of his, like Giotto’s can draw a perfect circle with his pen - and is there another man in England, in Europe indeed who can do it?’


George du Maurier, another colleague on Punch, once remarked that Sammy, as he was know to the Punch staff, was with Charles Keene, the one draughtsman who could draw hats. ‘Keene draws top-hats by natural genius: Sambourne by a scientific knowledge of geometry. The rest are nowhere.’ Another contemporary comment was ‘He draws like nobody else – nobody else drew like him.'


He did, however, have is detractors, at least those who did not think highly of his drawings. On his death one commentator said it was a mistake to speak of his lofty sense of style, he was only interested in the structure of things, he was an engineer’s draughtman and although his figures were anatomically correct they lacked life and movement. Another said that he always treated his subjects on a cold and decorative basis. The Manchester Guardian was very critical, saying that his drawing had charm and ability but no thrill or sting, and no political  feeling – that whilst Tenniel’s pencil was a weapon, Sambourne’s was a pencil; that he was a weak in portraiture and lifeless, that his drawings lacked warmth and spirit.


Sambourne’s work seems to have been exhibited frequently at the Royal Academy and he had several one-man shows in private galleries. However, he was never a member of the Royal Academy, because black and white illustrators were not admitted. His work was well-know in Frane and in the USA, and said to have been more appreciated  there than in England. In 1896, 340 lots of his work were sold for £535.15 – it is rather difficult to know how that rates his work as it is not even clear what a lot compromised.

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Mid-September to Mid-June

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