The Definitive Dwiggins no. 25 addendum: Imitation vs. assimilation
In tracking down potential sources of influence on Dwiggins as an illustrator I got in touch with Roger Reed of Illustration House, Inc. He is the son of Walt Reed (1917–2015), founder of Illustration House and author of many books on the history of illustration, including The Illustrator in America (2001, third edition). Reed, who has inherited his father’s expertise, suggested I look at the “Chicago School” of illustrators such as J.C. Leyendecker, Harrison Fisher and Henry Hutt (1875–1950).
Although Leyendecker was a teacher at the Frank Holme School of Illustration there seems to be little in common between his illustration style of the 1890s and surviving student work by Dwiggins. Leyendecker’s covers for The Inland Printer from November 1896 through May 1897 are marked by a loose line and splattered color.* In a word, they are painterly; the opposite of Dwiggins’ drawings which tend to be stiff with strong contours and tonal value created through fine stippling.
Reed’s suggestion of a link between Hutt and Harrison—neither of whom I had heard of before—and Dwiggins was prompted by the fact that the two “Chicago School” illustrators were both famous for their depictions of women. I had sent him an illustration by Dwiggins showing a well-dressed woman gesturing to a cat. I had struck out trying to find a precedent in the work of the French poster artist Théophile Steinlen (1859–1923), despite his penchant for cats. Hutt and Harrison focused on women from the upper classes like this one.
Rather than focus on one-to-one correlations between Dwiggins’ work and that of other artists, Reed argued that Dwiggins was assimilating and synthesizing ideas from various artists rather than imitating any one of them directly. Where I was looking for specific images as models for Dwiggins’ work, he was looking at overall artistic features. Assimilation is an intriguing concept, one that is relevant to Dwiggins’ maturation as an artist and designer.
In his discussion, Reed threw in two other artists who I had investigated but brushed aside as possible influences on Dwiggins: Howard Pyle (1853–1911) and Walter Crane (1845–1915). Regarding Femme et Chatte, he commented, “The manner of the folds is distinctive, and the black lines of the drapery remind me more of Walter Crane than anyone else.” Although Crane was English, he was well known in Chicago before Dwiggins’ arrived there. The Art Institute of Chicago hosted an exhibition of his work in 1892, accompanied by a catalogue.
Intriguingly, Dwiggins may also have encountered Crane via tiles made by the Mosaic Tile Company of Zanesville, Ohio. Dwiggins lived in Zanesville from 1890 to 1895 and, excluding his years in Chicago, in nearby Cambridge from 1896 until 1904. The MTC’s Crane tiles are dated to 1900.
Several illustrations in The Baby’s Opera by Walter Crane (London and New York: George Routledge and Sons, 1877) show women with drapery, as Reed said, very similar to that of Femme et Chatte: specifically the lady on p. 15, the lady on p. 41, and the maid on p. 49 (illustrated in the tile above).
Ultimately, as Reed has pointed out, Dwiggins’ illustration for Femme et Chatte is undoubtedly a synthesis of sources from France, England and the United States.
*Dwiggins used the spatter approach (in black and white) for his illustrations of Tales by Edgar Allan Poe (Chicago: Lakeside Press, 1931).