James Doyle was the son of John Doyle (1797–1868), the Irish cartoonist whose prints satirized Regency politics. James was one of four sons who went into art. Henry became the first director of the National Gallery of Ireland; Richard was the celebrated Punch designer, fairy artist and book-illustrator; and Charles was also a designer of fantasies and satirical hits. James was educated at home with his brothers and acquired the rudiments of art, although he did not engage with his siblings’ fascination with fairies and the fantastical.
James’s interests were factual rather than imaginary, making a limited career as a historian and historical illustrator. He wrote and illustrated two important books, both concerned with British history: The Historical Baronage of England (1885–86) and A Chronicle of England (1864). The second of these is a large-scale account of English history from 55 B.C. to the death of Richard III in 1485. The text is adequately written, if showing evidence of a lack of training; but the book’s value lies in its gem-like engravings. Printed from colour wood-blocks by Edmund Evans, this is one of two of the outstanding publications making use of this technique; the other is Richard Doyle’s In Fairyland (1870).
James Doyle’s designs bear interesting comparison with other illustrated history or plate books of the period, and it is instructive to compare them with the bold panoramas of Daniel Maclise’s The Norman Invasion (1866) and H. C. Selous’s Hereward the Wake (1869). Viewed in conjunction with these monochromatic picture-books, James’s coloured illustrations seem untutored and almost child-like; based on the author’s watercolours, the wood-blocks have great depth of colour but few effects of shading. Their sharply-printed, pristine images seem like designs for stained glass or highly coloured illuminations for a manuscript, an impression that accords with what is essentially a boy’s own version of history.
Related Material: Other illustrators in the Doyle Family
Works Cited and Sources of Information
Allingham, William. In Fairyland. Illustrated by Richard Doyle. London: Longmans, 1870 .
Doyle, James. A Chronicle of England, B.C. 55 – A.D. 1485. London: Longman, Green, Longman, 1864.
Doyle, James. The Historical Baronage of England. London: Longman, Green, Longman, 1885.
Engen, Rodney. Richard Doyle. Stroud: The Catalpa Press, 1983.