decorated initial A

lfred Walter Bayes (1831-1909), who was active throughout the mid-nineteenth century and contributed to some of the most interesting books of the 1860s, has long been relegated to the side-lines. His details are noted in Gleeson White’s English Illustration (1897), and again in Houfe’s dictionary (1978, 1996); but he is not included in the works of Reid (1928), Goldman (1994, 1996, 2004), and Cooke (2010), and is rarely mentioned.

Where he is remembered it is usually in connection with his three remarkable children: Walter (1869 — 1956), one of the founder members of the Camden Town Art Group; Gilbert William (1872 — 1953), an influential sculptor who produced many public and commemorative pieces; and Jessie (1878-1970), an illustrator and water-colourist, and the author of her family’s biography. All of these artists have been the subject of studies and monographs, but their father has fallen into obscurity.

Yet Bayes was a significant artist. His very industriousness — as a graphic designer who was also a painter, etcher, and photographer — is remarkable. In an age when it was commonplace for illustrators to produce vast quantities of work to supply the industrialised demands of pictorial magazines and popular literature, Bayes was one of the most prolific. Engaged by the Dalziels as one of their stable of regulars, he drew some hundreds or even thousands of images on wood. Versatile and inventive, he designed in a variety of visual styles which ranged from the biblical and epic to the domestic and fantastical.

Some of his best illustrations appeared in the gift books of the period, notably A Round of Days (1866), Original Poems (1867) and The Spirit of Praise [1867]. He found his natural talent, however, as an illustrator for children, and it is this domain that his work is at its most consistent and sustained.

Bayes became the principal interpreter of H. W. Dulcken’s series of English translations of Hans Christian Andersen, and in Stories and Tales (1864), What the Moon Saw (1866) and subsequent publications he produced a detailed and telling response to this body of texts. Though no such association survives, contemporaries routinely linked his name to Andersen’s. He was also the ‘standard’ interpreter of Hesba Stretton’s moralising tales of poverty and survival, as well as providing vivid plates to accompany Ewing’s fairy tales, Dulcken’s didactic telling of the Bible and English history, and various texts in the periodicals Aunt Judy’s Magazine and Kind Words for Boys and Girls. In all of these works he provided what The Examiner called ‘clever pictures’ (‘Christmas Books’, p.791) which were calculated, in the words of The Spectator, to ‘take the fancy of children’ (‘Current Literature’, p.1442).

Such credentials suggest the quality and appeal of his extended work in black and white. Forgotten by the critics of today, his work deserves investigation. This essay sets out to re-establish Bayes’s reputation as a sensitive interpreter of text who deployed a series of illustrative techniques; as an accomplished draughtsman; and as a designer who absorbed and manipulated some of the artistic influences of the time.


Victorian Web Homepage Visual Arts Victorian illustration bibliography

Last modified 30 October 2012