Selous's expertise in painting and illustration created many interactions between the two arts, but the relationship between them was asymmetrical. As in the case of other painter-illustrators — such as Rossetti or Millais — the paintings nourished the illustrations, and the practices applied to the canvas were carried over, with no sense of incongruity, into the creation of the graphic image. The scale of the paintings is clearly registered in Selous's emphasis on quarto and folio picture books, which recreate a sense of the epic space that he otherwise explored in his panoramas. More importantly, he imported the formal standards of his paintings into the small domain of the engraving.. Working at a time when illustration was dominated by the self-taught grotesqueries of George Cruikshank and Phiz (Hablot K. Browne), Selous elevated the art of illustration by insisting on a painterly draughtsmanship. The heroic figures and complicated compositions of the pictures in oil are continued in the illustrations, and the effect is often one of miniaturization, as if the cast of the paintings were refigured in black and white.

Left: Boudicca Haranguing the Icen. Right: Christian and Faithful Mocked by the Scorners of Vanity Fair, both by Selous. [Click on thumbnails for larger images.]

The cross-over from painting to illustration is exemplified by the relationship between Selous's cartoon for the Westminster Exhibition, Boudicca Haranguing the Iceni (1843, present whereabouts unknown), and the crowded, dynamic compositions of the picture books.

In Boudicca the muscular figures are arranged within a dense pyramidal composition, with the Queen at the apex. The same approach is adopted in Christian and Faithful Mocked by the Scorners of Vanity Fair (The Pilgrim's Progress, 1844), and the illustration clearly recreates the painting's emphasis on febrile extremes. Both images are highly wrought: the dynamic movement and noise of the painting reappear in the printed design, and both give the impression of tumultuous restlessness that is so characteristic of Selous's art.

Left: How Hereward Cleared Bourne of Frenchmen. Right: The Battle of Flodden, both by Selous.

[Click on thumbnails for larger images.]

His favourite motif is the crowd or battle, and the compositional devices that feature in Boudicca can also be traced in the teeming crowd-scenes of his picture books. Prime examples feature in the convoluted melee of Hereward the Wake (1870), a virtuoso piece of draughtsmanship in which the muscle-bound are rarely still. Devoid of moments of quiet reflection, Selous's designs for the printed page always recall the paintings' emphasis on action, on charged moments of anger, fear, horror and heroic exaltation.

This emotional extremis is registered in the form of distorted gestures and facial expressions and here, again, Boudicca provides a sort of template. There is a close relationship, for example, between the gesturing figures of the cartoon and the complex attitudinizing of the figures in Christian and Faithful , and again in the forms of the soldiers in The Battle of Flodden (Poems and Pictures, 1846, illustration). Figured as if they were melodramatic actors playing a historical piece on the contemporary stage, Selous's characters always demonstrate their inner emotions in the form of external signs, physical tokens which show what lies ' within' .

Two vertical format illustrations by Selous with elaborate framing: Left: Headpiece for Chapter One of Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress.

Right: The Death of Biorn. [Click on thumbnails for larger images.]

Such painterly effects were noted by contemporary critics and it was commonplace for Selous to be praised as a sort of artistic saviour, a revolutionary who had raised standards in book-design by fusing it with the more exalted domain of fine art. Special praise was directed at The Pilgrim's Progress (1844) and Sintram and His Companions (1844), both of which were regarded as the work of an educator, an artist who had democratized the language of fine art by making it available to the untutored mass' ('Sintram', Art Union, 336) of the ignorant middle-class, and, in so doing, had improved public taste. His panoramas had been praised for achieving the same effect, but his illustrated books reached a much broader audience. Offering work of a ' very high character' (' Outlines to The Pilgrim's Progress' Art Union, 61), in terms of its formal sophistication, Selous's illustrations were regarded at the time of production as one of civilizing influences on early Victorian culture.


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Last modified 22 April 2009