Illustration - Summer 2015 - Issue 44

Memory and reputation is a recurring theme in this issue, reminding us just how fleeting fame and fortune can be – and how fortunate it is that illustrations tend to endure long enough for fashions to change many times, giving future generations the chance to rediscover lost masters. Whether this will be true in future, when so much art is produced and disseminated digitally remains to be seen, but in the meantime we can be grateful for the technological innovations of the past that allow us still to find books illustrated by neglected Victorian artists, such as Paul Gray, or early illustrated nursery rhymes. Of course, modern technology can also help here. Libraries that still hold complete runs of magazines and newspapers enable us to see exactly how contemporary artists viewed historical events such as the first and second world wars, and picture libraries such as Mary Evans do a wonderful job ensuring that the work of once-famous illustrators such as Fortunino Matania is still available for researchers, even if the publications in which their work starred have become scarce. 
Other “forgotten” artists can return to the limelight because of random chance and the perseverance of a few individuals. Norman Janes and his wife Barbara Greg, for example, would probably have remained obscure, known only by a few who had their books, if their archive had not fallen into the hands of people determined to find out more about them and reprint their work. Language can also be a barrier, meaning that books printed in other countries can remain unknown elsewhere unless their authors or illustrators achieve global recognition. Such works often require a dedicated collector to assemble – and promote or exhibit – if they are ever to cross their own national borders. Fame, then, may be fleeting, but it is reassuring and exciting to realise that so much is still out there waiting to be found, dusted down and presented to an appreciative audience.

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