Master Collection 14: the artist as illustrator
Sketches for illustrations to John Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ by Thomas Stothard, RA (1755-1834). Pencil and pen-and-ink on paper.
Thomas Stothard was a famous artist who also created illustrations for books.
In the sketch on the right is a man with a sword and shield attacking a giant who is flanked by lions. The man is about to lunge and thrust his sword into the giant.
- Can you see how the artist has lightly sketched the positions of the legs then drawn a firmer line when he was certain?
On the other side of the sheet are sketches of a struggle involving several women, and perhaps children.
The artist has made lots of small drawings because he’s sketching ideas for an illustration. They are quick, lightly drawn and smudgy. Some lines are drawn more firmly or inked in.
This drawing shows the final composition - made after the small sketches were done, when the artist had a clear idea of what he wanted.
- Can you read the inscription below this drawing?
The women were in a great scuffle, the children also stood crying by.
This is a quotation of text from a book called The Pilgrim’s Progress written in the 17th century by John Bunyan. It tells the story of a man called Christian and the obstacles and hazards he encounters on a journey to the Celestial City, and the similar journey of his wife Christiana with their four sons and her neighbour Mercy. The story is a Christian allegory of the road through life to Heaven.
Here we can see how Bunyan gave his characters names that have a clear meaning, in the inscription below this more finished drawing:
‘And Giant Despair was brought down to the ground but was very loth [loathe] to die.’
Great Despair was one of the hazards met by pilgrims on the road to the Celestial City.
The two more finished drawings with inscriptions were ideas for illustrations to The Pilgrim’s Progress.
Stothard made a number of compositional drawings like these, based on lots of small sketches.
He and the publisher then selected which compositions to work up into larger drawings (they chose seventeen) for a specialist printmaker to etch (incise) onto metal plates.
The first set of etched plates was made by Joseph Strutt and published 1788-1789.
Stothard’s illustrations to The Pilgrim’s Progress were hugely popular. The etched versions by Strutt continued to be published until 1797. Engraved versions by other artists were published in 1839-1840 and later.
Stothard was in great demand as an illustrator of novels, poems and plays. He made thousands of sketches and compositional studies, and hundreds of his illustrations were published as etched or engraved copies by specialist printmakers.
Sketches for illustrations to Laurence Sterne’s ‘Tristram Shandy’ Thomas Stothard, RA (1755-1834). Pencil and pen-and-ink on paper.
This page of sketches are for a very different book The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.
In the top right drawing a man is sitting down to a meal. There’s a tankard on the table. A man standing on his left may be a servant. The man in the doorway is probably an innkeeper: he is wearing a smock and cap, and is carrying several bottles.
A smaller man, also sitting in a sitting in a chair is shown separately in the top right drawing. He looks far too small for the chair. His feet don’t even touch the ground! This is almost certainly Dr Slop…
a little squat, uncourtly figure ... about four feet and a half perpendicular height, with a breadth of back, and a sesquipedality of belly, which might have done honour to a serjeant in the horse-guards.
In the bottom drawing a woman and two men are sitting on tall-backed chairs, with a man standing on the left. One of the seated men is smoking a pipe. Do you recognise the two seated men from the sketches above? The woman appears to be holding a small box.
The figures are dressed in 18th century costume and the furniture is also of this period. All the men, apart from the innkeeper, are wearing wigs with curls. The woman probably also wears a tightly curled wig.
The words written by the artist at the bottom are ‘Tristram Shandy’. This is the name of the leading character in the novel by Laurence Sterne (1713-1768), a Yorkshire vicar, titled The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. It purports to be an autobiographical account by Tristram but is purposefully long-winded and doesn’t get beyond his infancy. It pokes fun at writing and opinions of the time.