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lfred Walter Bayes was a polymath whose field of proficiency included painting in watercolour and oil, etching, and photography. His most enduring work, however, was in the form of illustration. He was fortunate in procuring work from the Dalziel Brothers. The Dalziels were the prime engravers of the period and as the originators of books – who had a productive arrangement with Routledge – they commissioned Bayes as yet another addition to their growing ensemble of promising talent. The Dalziels record how he was introduced to the Camden Press by Charles Fairfax Murray, an associate of the Clique, and a friend of many of the artists drawing on wood. This meeting probably took place towards the end of 1863, and Bayes immediately made a good impression. In their Record of Fifty Years’ Work (1901) they note how he came to them ‘as if’ [my emphasis] he were an established talent. Not quite the youthful ingénue, he displayed

a wonderful capacity for design. We could not say he came as a pupil; but whatever progress he made in our studio was the result of the practice derived from the subjects given to him, and owing to the advantage of his seeing a great variety of drawing by the leading artists of the time. He was very industrious and very rapid. He worked for us for many years. [348–49]

The Dalziels’ comment is a telling one, focusing attention on Bayes’s combination of industriousness and facility. The Brothers were perhaps most appreciative of his capacity to produce designs quickly, efficiently, and in great numbers. Irritated by the dilatoriness of Doyle and the hyper-critical obstructiveness of Rossetti and Sandys, the engravers valued the work-rate of an artist who produced the work to demand and on time. Although some of his illustrations show sign of haste and were occasionally criticised for being sketchy, the tally is astonishing: eighty designs for What the Moon Saw (1866), another eighty for Golden Light (1865), and the same number for the Picture History of England [1865]. All three of these books were published, we should remember, at about the same time: a total of two hundred and forty for these alone, and in addition to work on sundry other commissions, all prepared in a matter of a few months and published in readiness (usually by the middle of November) for the Christmas trade. Imprints were large and the Dalziels monopolised on ‘their’ artist’s productivity by re-using his illustrations in collected editions, uniting earlier designs for Andersen in the celebrated anthology, Stories for the Household (1866), and again in the re-issues of the end of the sixties in the form of the Hans Andersen Library. Priced at only 1/6, these later books were hugely successful, and Bayes designs turned up in numerous other cheap imprints for reading in the nursery.

Success was important, and Bayes’s status was only that of the jobbing artist whose prime imperative was necessarily a financial one. Like most of his contemporaries in the competitive art-world of the mid-nineteenth century, he had to work to live, practising his craft within a framework of high demand but selective employment. Engaged within a cash-nexus in which there were no formal contracts and all fees were paid piecemeal, he is likely to have earned £10 – £15 per large illustration and perhaps the same for a series of small designs such as head and tail-pieces.

Driven forward by the work-ethic of the Methodist artisan, whose illustrations were often published anonymously in books which failed to list his name on the title-page, he seems to have flourished within the creative but pressurised atmosphere of the Dalziels’ workshop. Yet we should not forget that before he could do the work he had to learn how to become an illustrator whose images could be translated into engravings on wood. At this period photography was being used to transfer images ‘onto the block’, but the absence of any surviving material – either of photographs of his illustrations or any of his drawings – strongly suggests that Bayes mastered the difficult task on drawing directly onto the wood. In keeping with a well-established procedure, he would have created his images in hard pencil on prepared surfaces coated with Chinese White, so consigning the work to destruction when it was cut by the engraver. In gaining these skills he must have had some assistance, and perhaps some form of training, from the Dalziels, or from contemporary masters such as Sandys; but his tenacious habit of self-instruction was probably the principal means by which he mastered this difficult process.

Equally important was the influence of the ‘leading artists’, whose work he would have seen in the Dalziel studio. Here he found ample opportunity to learn from the drawings, engravings, proofs and published designs that passed through the Brothers’ hands as they made their journey from personal utterance to the public domain of the printed page. He may also have benefited from direct engagement with the artists who produced these illustrations. The Dalziels’ studio was run on informal lines, and social interaction between fellow professionals was just as important as the process of doing business.

We can be certain that his learning from contemporaries is mirrored in his own illustrations. Bayes’s graphic style was in many ways eclectic: he borrowed specific motifs and visual themes from a variety of styles, and assimilated a range of pictorial idioms. His images notably responded, somewhat paradoxically, to two unrelated exemplars: one is the Pre-Raphaelite design of Sandys and du Maurier; and the other is the outline style, as originally derived from the art of Retszch, and exemplified by the illustrations of Pickersgill.

Left to right: (a) Until Her Death by Frederick Sandys. (b) The Mother Watching Her Sick Child. [Click on these images for larger pictures.]

Simon Houfe describes Bayes as a ‘second generation Pre-Raphaelite’ (p. 57) a mode of visualisation he probably modelled on the example of Sandys. Several of his designs reflect the influence of the older artist. Bayes quotes Sandys in ‘The Mother Watching Her Sick Child’ (Stories and Tales, p.212). This shows the concerned parent, ‘very sorrowful and fearful’ (p. 211) as she contemplates her child’s death. The sentiment is genuine but the prime inspiration, I suggest, is the macabre illustration produced by Sandys for Good Words, ‘Until Her Death’ (1862, p.312). In particular, Bayes recreates the monumental female figure of the young women contemplating the skeleton of Death: in his design the pose is the same as in the exemplar, with the head leaning on the hand, and the effect is again one of psychological intensity, with one character gazing at the other. Bayes similarly manipulates the supporting elements, altering, quoting and rearranging the details to suit his purposes. So, for example, the character of Death is changed (in accordance with Andersen’s text) into an old man, although both representations of the Grim Reaper are hooded, and both hold timing-glasses. The flowers are also subtly changed. In ‘Until Her Death’ the lilies in the vase have shed one bloom, emblematically suggesting the fate of vanity; in ‘The Mother Watching Her Sick Child’, on the other hand, the plant has been moved to the window, a sign of both life and death, a young life about to thrive like a young plant, or the soul about to escape (in a motif recurring throughout Victorian art) through the opened window. Bayes’s treatment is thus a subtle matter of invoking the chill of ‘Until Her Death’ while re-figuring it within the more hopeful setting of a fairy tale. His strategy is one of calculated homage, and suggests how closely he must have studied the original design; he may have seen it as a proof in the Dalziels’ shop, and he may have seen it in its preparatory stages.

At the same time, several of Bayes’s designs recall du Maurier’s composition and style and it is possible, once again, to connect the work of the two artists. Bayes’s female figures, like du Maurier’s, wear huge radiating crinolines, and recreate du Maurier’s fascination with the monumental forms of their vast dresses. But Bayes was most influenced by du Maurier’s motif of the archetypal perfect woman, a version of beauty and self-absorption.

Left to right: (a) A Time to Dance by George Du Maurier. (b) The Mother at the Grave by Alfred Walter Bayes. [Click on these images for larger pictures.]

In his illustration of ‘The Mother at the Grave’ (Stories for the Household, p. 495), we have Bayes’s showing of an ideal type which is closely referenced to the character in du Maurier’s ‘A Time to Dance’, an image the Dalziels cut and published in Good Words in 1861 (p. 579). As in his response to ‘Until Her Death’, Bayes focuses on the pose, which, despite some alterations to the placing of the hands, bears a close resemblance to du Maurier’s. The closed eyes, profile, elongated ear and detailing of the hair are very close indeed: moving beyond quotation, Bayes navigates the uncertain boundaries of homage, imitation, reference, and plagiarism.

Du Maurier was important, in short, as a formative influence enabling Bayes to develop his own version of the ‘Pre-Raphaelite woman’, a notion of femininity which partakes of a wider discourse and is instantly recognisable. Bayes also saw the Pre-Raphaelites’ treatment of the female figure in a variety of illustrations, notably those appearing in The Music Master (1855), the ‘Moxon Tennyson’ (1857) and Wilmott’s Poetry of the Nineteenth Century (1857). Engraved by the Dalziels, these sources would have reinforced the impact of his immediate contemporaries and strengthened his practice of working in a Pre-Raphaelite idiom.

Left to right: (a) The Destruction of Sennacherib by George Du Maurier. (b) The Sermon on the Mount by Alfred Walter Bayes. [Click on these images for larger pictures.]

Another type of advantage was derived from his studies in the outline style of Pickersgill. Du Maurier and Sandys taught him to work up detailed surfaces with intense human drama as his focus; Pickersgill, conversely, provided him with a type of economical line and spare modelling. Bayes is clearly influenced by Pickersgill’s treatment of biblical themes. His versions of the Bible in Golden Light (1865) recall the older artist’s arrangement of groups and facial expressions. There are many analogies between the two, and Bayes’s stylistic debt to Pickersgill is epitomised by the familial relationship between ‘The Destruction of Sennacherib’ in English Sacred Poetry (p.250) and illustrations such as ‘The Sermon on the Mount’ in (Golden Light, (p.235). Bayes’s design recreates the elaborate arrangement of interlocked figures, and the narrative, as in Pickersgill’s design, is conveyed in the image’s sparse, uncluttered surface.

Varying between this type of outline and detail, Bayes’s art can sometimes seem paradoxical, a desire to clutter the picture-plane while elsewhere removing all but essentials. However, his eclecticism was understood at the time of production as a logical movement between two tendencies within contemporary illustration which underlay aspects of Pre-Raphaelitism and were more generally found in mid-Victorian art. Du Maurier, Sandys and Pickersgill were all classified as ‘Germanic artists’, whose styles emulated (on the one hand) the congested surfaces of Rethel and Hasenclever, and (on the other) the bare outlines of Retszch. Many of Bayes’s contemporaries oscillated between the two – notably Selous and Tenniel – and Bayes was routinely described by commentators as a Germanic artist who veered between these extremes. This confused tendency sometimes divides his illustrations into two classes, and sometimes, as in the images for Andersen, co-exists on successive pages.


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Last modified 30 October 2012