Phantastes

Illustrations for "Phantastes". Recto: Phyllis and Demophoon; verso (unfinished); by Bernard Sleigh RBSA, 1872-1954. Black ink on cream paper, signed with monogram, bottom right; inscribed by the artist on a label: "Illustration to Phantastes: Vol II August, 1894," and with the artist's name and address. 15 1/4 x 22 7/16 inches, 38.8 x 56 centimetres.

Commentary by Sally Burgess and Peter Nahum

Phantastes, a Faerie Romance by George MacDonald was first published in London in 1858. Another edition, published by Chatto & Windus, appeared in 1894. Sleigh's drawing may well be connected with this edition although it was not used in the final publication. The size of the drawing and its fine detail indicates that it was intended for photographic process reproduction rather than wood engraving. Sleigh was one of the pioneers of the revival of decorative wood engraving.

These drawings, by the twenty-two year old artist, were produced at the very beginning of his career, soon after the distinctive Birmingham School style crystallised in the Birmingham Municipal School of Art and the Birmingham Guild of Handicraft.

An important article in the second volume of the Studio (1893) pointed out that the Birmingham School's style of illustration was deeply indebted to that of Burne-Jones, himself as a native of Birmingham. This inspiration can be clearly seen in the present drawings, in the frieze-like use of space and details of heads and fantastic armour in Phantastes, a Faerie Romance and in the very subject of Phyllis and Demophoon which Burne-Jones had treated twice in 1870 and 1882 (20). The drawings also reveal Sleigh's strength of design and line, probably created by his training as a wood engraver and by his study of decorative illustration techniques.

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References

Nahum, Peter, and Sally Burgess. Pre-Raphaelite-Symbolist-Visionary. London: Peter Nahum at Leicester Galleries. Catalogue number 41.


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