At the heart of Selous's achievement is a series of tensions between the large scale of painting and the smallness of illustration, German style and British subjects, ornamentation and austerity. What is remarkable, however, is the way that he synthesises his interests, producing a series of overlaps and continuities which ultimately allow him to produce a body of illustration that is remarkably focused and consistent within itself.
All of these qualities are important, and Selous deserves to re-gain his reputation as an inventive illustrator whose achievement is one of inventive resolution, bringing together the disparate to create an imposing style. He also deserves to be highly regarded as an artist who develops another distinctive strand in Victorian illustration. Positioned between the humour of Cruikshank and Leech and the romanticism of Rossetti, Millais and the Sixties school, his historicism injects a sombre note, presenting images of high academic quality and deep feeling.
But Selous's reputation as an illustrator must rest, finally, on the intense power of his visualizations. In his own time he was constantly praised for his 'tasks of magnitude' ('Poems and Pictures', Ainsworth's, 30). Critics realized that his greatest strength lay in his capacity to draw figures in action, emoting, shouting, fighting or making trouble, and his self-assessment was equally blunt. In his Journal, written at the very beginning of his career, he comments on his need to produce images that are infused with ' great power' (3 November, 1833). Loud, plangent and masculine, Selous is an illustrator who achieved his artistic aims.
Last modified 22 April 2009