The Definitive Dwiggins no. 25—Imitation, Derivation and Inspiration
In a previous post on W.A. Dwiggins I investigated the drawings of The Brownies he copied as a child from books written by their originator Palmer Cox. The practice of copying other artists stayed with Dwiggins throughout his entire professional career. Sometimes he imitated a style while at other times he copied a composition in toto or in part. It was part and parcel of the practice of being a commercial artist.
In Chicago 1899–1903
Dwiggins left Ohio in the fall of 1899 to attend art school in Chicago. After a brief stay at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago he enrolled in the newly established Frank Holme School of Illustration, located in the Athenaeum Building in the Loop. Through Holme, Dwiggins became aware of the poster artists of the day, such as Edward Penfield (1866–1925), Will Carqueville (1871–1946) and Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen (1859–1923). Some of their work hung on the walls of Holme’s office.
As a student Dwiggins derived inspiration from many sources. H emulated the Beggarstaff Brothers (the pseudonym of William Nicholson 1872–1949 and James Pryde 1866–1941) in a poster for Mail Pouch, a fictitious weekly magazine. He did a remarkably good job of absorbing the design lessons to be found in their posters. Note how the gentleman’s feet are outside the border and his body obscures part of the text, suggesting that he is walking in front of a poster. The dab of red for his vest, which echoes the checked shirt of the gentleman in the Beggarstaff poster for Rowntree’s Elect Cocoa (1896), provides a focal point for the entire design.
While in school Dwiggins was also looking at the work of Will Bradley (1868–1962) who, at that point had shifted his interest from Aubrey Beardsley and William Morris to American Colonial printing. This is reflected in Dwiggins’ lettering and drawings for “Current Topics,” presumably a department heading for a fictitious magazine.
Dwiggins absorbed Bradley’s Chap-Book cuts in the work he did for publisher Alfred Bartlett. The simple imitation “woodcut” style remained with him for many years, even appearing in Gargantua and Pantagruel (1936) where it is mixed in with other influences (see the ornamental trees). Dwiggins’ illustrations in this mode were less graphic than Bradley’s, relying more on hatching than on blocked-out areas of black.
Working with Daniel Berkeley Updike of the Merrymount Press 1906–1914
After leaving the Frank Holme School, Dwiggins worked briefly in Chicago with his teacher Fred Goudy before returning to Ohio in early 1903. A year later he moved to Hingham, Massachusetts to be part of Goudy’s relocated Village Press. Dwiggins struck out on his own as a freelance designer in the spring of 1905. He soon met Daniel Berkeley Updike, proprietor of the Merrymount Press and one of the leading printers in Boston at the time.
Beginning in the fall of 1906 and continuing through 1913, Dwiggins worked extensively for Updike and his Merrymount Press; and he continued to work sporadically for him into the early 1930s. Studying at the Frank Holme School and working with Goudy was Dwiggins’ “undergraduate” education; working with Updike was his “graduate” education. Updike introduced him to a wider world of art history and printing history. Much of that education consisted of Updike requesting Dwiggins to carry out illustrations and decoration in the manner of specific artists of the past. Two such artists were Jean-Baptiste Pillement (1728–1808) and John Flaxman (1755–1826).
In March 1907 Updike hired Dwiggins to work on a four-volume edition of the poetical works of John Milton. In the memorandum of agreement Dwiggins agreed to provide fifteen illustrations, four borders, seven headpieces (later increased to eight), four tailpieces, various bits of lettering including the title page.  It was an enormous job, the most important one of Dwiggins’ career to that point. It was not fully completed until August 1908.
Dwiggins’ illustrations for The Poetical Works of John Milton (Boston: R.H. Hinkley Company, 1908) were “adaptations from Flaxman,” in Updike’s words. The idea of adapting Flaxman came from Updike, who heavily art-directed Dwiggins. Flaxman had planned to illustrate an edition of Paradise Lost, making several pencil sketches and watercolor wash drawings in the 1790s, but they were never published.  The drawings are much looser than the neoclassical outline drawings he used to illustrate Homer (1793), Dante (1807) and Hesiod (1817). Dwiggins’ drawings are a cross between Flaxman’s two styles with a looseness of composition based on the unpublished Milton illustrations, but a flat linearity of drawing derived from the neoclassical work.
Dwiggins subsequently designed some motto cards for Alfred Bartlett and the title page illustration for the pirated edition of The Gypsy Trail by Rudyard Kipling (1909) in the Flaxman manner.
Pillement was a French rococo painter, designer and ornamentalist known for his “exquisite and delicate landscapes.” His romanticized scenes of Asia became well known in their engraved form as chinoiserie. Updike’s enthusiasm for Pillement (he used one of his illustrations for a muffin advertisement!) rubbed off on Dwiggins who frequently turned to the French illustrator for inspiration throughout the remainder of his career. He copied Pillement for Updike on several occasions. One is the title page illustration for Pierrot’s Verses by Maria de Acosta Sargent (1917).
His first use of Pillement for himself was for a mailing label he designed in 1910 when he moved his studio from his home in Hingham to 69 Cornhill in Boston. He later riffed on Pillement for an advertising insert for Old Hampshire Bond Champagne paper in the early 1920s; and in the 1940s he stole directly from Pillement for the decorations of the reissue of Java Head by Joseph Hergesheimer (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1946). In the case of the latter, Dwiggins was upfront about his debt to the French artist, giving him credit in the colophon: “The ornaments are adapted from designs by Jean Pillement (1719–1808).” 
What Dwiggins seemed to like most about Pillement’s work were not the Chinese figures, but the fantastical landscapes often floating in an indeterminate space, and the strange flowers and plants. Both underpin many of Dwiggins’ distinctive stencil designs.
Dwiggins has always been known for his sense of humor. It is evident in a design he made for himself and his wife Mabel in 1908 as both a Christmas card (where it is hand colored) and a bookplate. The illustration is a modification of “Hortulus Animae” by Hans Baldung Grün (c.1484–1545), one of a series of woodcuts that the German artist made in 1510 and 1511. Dwiggins replaced the two figures with himself and his wife and changed the text on the shield. He probably discovered the woodcut in The Decorative Illustration of Books by Walter Crane (London: George Bell and Sons, 1896) where it is shown on p. 110.
Advertising Work 1909–1928
In the 1910s the bulk of Dwiggins’ work involved advertising. His most important client was the Paine Furniture Company of Boston for whom he worked nearly the entire decade, contributing illustrations, borders and lettering to several hundred advertisements that ran in the major Boston newspapers almost daily. Between April 1910 and December 1913, Dwiggins drew over twenty small vignettes of the Middle East for Paine rug advertisements. At least three of them were derived from paintings by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824–1904), an academic French painter acclaimed for his Orientalist scenes.
Dwiggins’ illustration in this Paine Furniture Co. advertisement from The Boston Evening Transcript (23 September 1913) is copied from a portion of Gérôme’s Le marchand de tapes au Caire (c.1887). The original work has been transformed from an oil painting to a pen-and-ink drawing, but the composition remains identical.
In The Definitive Dwiggins no. 18 I showed an engraving by Edmé Bouchardon (1698–1762) that Dwiggins included in a paper specimen. I also referred to his reuse of an engraving by Pierre-Philippe Choffard (1731–1809) for a 1911 advertisement for Howes Cleanser, a laundry in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Unfortunately, the link to The Definitive Dwiggins no. 10 shows a paper specimen with an illustration derived from a different Howes Cleanser advertisement that is not based on the work of Choffard. Below is the artwork for the correct advertisement. The design is taken directly from a trade card for Didier Aubert, a print seller and engraver in Paris, that Choffard engraved/etched in 1756. It is signed “WAD after Choffard.”
Late Career: Dwiggins in the 1940s and 1950s
Throughout his professional career Dwiggins never ceased to copy other artists. As late as the 1940s and 1950s Dwiggins was still turning to fine artists for inspiration. For a logo for the Gallery Press, a division of BLAH BLAH he drew a variation on a drawing entitled Les amateurs de peinture by Honoré Daumier (1808–1879). It is one of several in a series of drawings he French satirist made in the 1860s of connoisseurs, art collectors, auction houses and artist studios. 
For the Evansville, Indiana printer Herbert W. Simpson, who styled himself “the feather-vender” [sic], Dwiggins designed a mark based on the work of Jacques Callot (c.1592–1635), French draughtsman and printmaker.  There is no direct model for the figure inside the zodiac circle. The closest image by Callot that I can identify is Scapin from his commedia dell’arte series.
Years earlier, Dwiggins had used Callot for inspiration for some of the illustrations in Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais (New York: Limited Editions Club, 1936). Dwiggins discovered Callot either through Updike, who in 1912 compared his work favorably to that of the French artist, or through the rich collection of Callot prints at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. 
There are other illustrations by Dwiggins that seem derivative, but so far I have been unable to identify their sources. Most of the sources discussed here are ones that Dwiggins himself talked about. The Dwiggins Collections at the Boston Public Library contain numerous clippings from magazines and books—what commercial artists used to call a “swipe file”—that he gathered during his career. There are photographs of camels and castles, Renaissance and Rococo engravings, articles on illustrators such as Edwin Abbey and Frank Brangwyn, and commercial booklets. Some of the material may have been for general reference and information, but surely some of it—with enough time and patience—can be linked to specific Dwiggins illustrations and ornamentation. 
Fred T. Singleton, a leading American typographer between the world wars, described the ideal designer of the day as conversant with decoration and design in the “Fine Manner,” e.g. 16th c. French and Renaissance style, the “Grand Manner” e.g. Versailles, the “Enchanting Manner” e.g. Watteau et al, or the “Antique Manner” e.g. Pompeii/Rome and neoclassicists like Adam, Bodoni, Flaxman; or those who copy Morris, Grasset et al. At the same time, “Familiar as he is with all the art of the past, he does not neglect the great schools of decorative art of the present day.” Additionally, the designer had to be a master of every technique of illustration: “…he works with equal facility in black and white, wash, oil, and does not scorn to airbrush over a humble snapshot if it will create an impression that helps to sell.” If that was not enough, the designer also had to knowledgeable about the engraving processes for wood, halftone, stone and platemaking; and also familiar with typesetting, printing and binding. This was the sort of education that Dwiggins acquired between 1900 and 1920, beginning with his time at the Frank Holme School of Illustration and the studio he shared with Goudy, continuing with his association with Updike, and culminating in his own study of art, decoration and lettering.
Dwiggins’ abilities as an illustrator have often been denigrated, even by close friends and supporters such as Carl Purington Rollins and Philip Hofer. One reason that Dwiggins is not seen as an illustrator of the first rank like his contemporaries Rockwell Kent and Eric Gill, is that he has no definitive style. That may be due to as much to the manner in which he was educated about illustration as to the needs and desires of his clients. In a future post I will survey Dwiggins’ many illustration styles and attempt to sort them out and to identify their reason for being.
1. The Huntington Library, Merrymount Press business records, Job Book no. 10, pp. 167 and 191.
2. See Milton and English Art: A Study in the Pictorial Artist’s Use of a Literary Source by Marcia R. Pointon (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1970), pp. 77-82.
3. Dwiggins’ birth date for Pillement does not match the one generally accepted today.
4. See no. 70 in Daumier Drawings by Colta Ives, Margret Stuffmann and Martin Sonnabend (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Harry N. Abrams, Inc.), 1993), p. 164.
5. Dwiggins signed the illustration “JC-WAD” to indicate his debt to Callot, but Simpson whited it out, claiming that the work was all Dwiggins’. See Herbert W. Simpson to Dorothy Abbe 16 April 1967 in the Boston Public Library, Dorothy Abbe Collection, Box 22, Folder 1098.
6. See “Designs to Be Used with Type” by Daniel Berkeley Updike in The Graphic Arts, vol. III, no. 1 (January, 1912), p. 111.
7. Boston Public Library, 1974 Dwiggins Collection, Box 39 which actually consists of four boxes of material organized alphabetically.
8. Fred T. Singleton. “Design: The Missing Link between Copy and Printing” in The Printing Art (vol. XXXVI, no. 6) February 1921, pp. 483–490.
As one prime example of Dwiggins copying and revising existing illustrations see my multiple posts on his work for How the Old World Found the New by Eunice Fuller Barnard and Lida Lee Tall (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1929).