American illustrator Robert Fawcett was a master of expressive texture, controlled color, dramatic value, strong composition and, above all, superb draftsmanship.
Fawcett was active in the early middle of the 20th Century, a time when the role of photography, and the shifts in fine art, were dramatically changing the look and feel of illustration.
Like many of his contemporaries, Fawcett de-emphasized rendering, focusing instead on the composition as a whole, the drama of the scene in relation to the page on which it was printed and the surrounding or incorporated type, and the visual appeal of passages of intense texture against more open areas.
He did not, however, abandon the fundamentals of draftsmanship and expressive drawing that carried forward from the traditions of the Golden Age illustrators and the 19th Century academic art from which they evolved.
Fawcett’s use of subdued color may have had something to do with the fact that he had a form of color blindness (often relying on his wife’s guidance in the application of color), but it was also from his emphasis on a solid foundation of value as the basis for a composition.
Even Fawcett’s more highly rendered illustrations contain an overt element of drawing, with linework evident in the architectural backgrounds if not in the figures. Many pieces have a feeling of painted drawings, and were in fact done that way.
He had an interest in art form an early age. Encouraged by his father, who was an amateur artist, he was apprenticed to an engraver, and spent most of his earnings buying magazines to study the illustrations. Fawcett was born in London, moved to Canada with his family and then to New York. He returned to London to study at the Slade Art School.
He began his career studying to be a gallery artist, but was bitterly put off by what he saw as petty politics, infighting and posturing of the fine art milleu. He decided to devote himself to commercial art, which he saw as more honestly straightforward in its intent.
He had great success creating illustrations for magazines like The Saturday Evening Post, Holiday, Cosmopolitan and numerous advertising clients. His most famous illustrations were a terrific set of 12 Sherlock Holmes illustrations for stories written by Conan Doyle’s nephew Adrian Conan Doyle and John Dickson Carr. The first of these ran in Good Housekeeping, and the others were published in Collier’s Weekly (image above, bottom). In his later career Fwcett devoted himself to documentary style reportage for Look magazine.
He was well respected by his peers, earning the mantle of “The Illustrator’s Illustrator”, which is the subtitle of a much anticipated book from Auad Publishing, Robert Fawcett: The Illustrator’s Illustrator, that is currently in production.
Fawcett himself wrote a well regarded book, On the Art of Drawing, which is still in print from Dover books.
Fawcett was one of the original group of illustrators, along with artists like Austin Briggs, Al Parker, Norman Rockwell and others, brought together by Albert Dorne to form the Famous Artists School.
I haven’t found a specific site dedicated to Fawcett’s work, but Leif Peng has come through again (as he so often does) with a terrific Flickr set (note that there are multiple pages of thumbnails), as well as a brief article on his blog, Today’s Inspiration.
Lori Lovecraft has a page devoted to Fawcett’s Sherlock Holmes Illustrations.
Gallery Nucleus, in Alhambra, California is hosting a Robert Fawcett Solo Exhibition, the opening for which is tomorrow, May 22, 2010, (though they haven’t yet posted pieces from the show). The exhibition runs until June 14, 2010.