Henry Patrick Raleigh was a classic American illustrator active in the early part of the 20th century. Raleigh is not as well known as many of the illustrators from the Golden Age and the mid-20th century eras that bracketed his career, and undeservedly so.
I can think of few illustrators, or artists in general, whose draftsmanship was more fluid and gestural. Raleigh’s ability to convey body language, expression and the sense of languid grace of figures in repose is just amazing.
In particular, he was a chronicler of, and enthusiastic participant in, the society high life of the “Gatsby era” in the 1920s. Raleigh was extraordinarily prolific, creating some 20,000 illustrations during his career. At a time when illustration was more highly valued than it is today, it gave him the wealth to move in the richest levels of society.
I think his remarkable output, continually drawing and working, also accounted for his high degree of artistic confidence, skill and economy of notation (look at the gestural representation of the flowers in the image above, fifth down). He was also an accomplished etcher.
He illustrated stories for many of the most prominent authors of his time, including H.G. Wells, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Agatha Christie, Stephen Vincent Benet, William Faulkner, Sinclair Lewis, and Somerset Maugham.
Raleigh was primarily a draftsman, and actually resented the advent of color illustrations, feeling that illustration was best as pure drawing. For all of that, when the demand for color became apparent, he incorporated it into his work with the same superb ability he devoted to his drawings, often using color in inventive and unusual ways. Some of his illustrations are monochromatic except for a single area of color; others use loosely applied color accents; and others are in full, brilliant color.
There is a wonderful collection of Raleigh’s work, The Henry Raleigh Archive, maintained by his grandson, Chris Raleigh. In the well designed and easy to navigate site, you will find biographical information, items for sale and a selection of Raleigh’s work with links to large images.
As beautiful as Raleigh’s work is in digital images, it is best viewed in the medium for which it was intended — print. There is a beautiful new book showcasing his work: Henry Patrick Raleigh: The Confident Illustrator, from Auad Publishing (images above, bottom) The text is provided by Christopher Raleigh, who evidently also worked with Auad to collect the images and provided access to the archives.
I was delighted to receive a review copy and the book is just gorgeous. This should be a must-have for aficionados of classic illustration, and really for anyone interested in fluid, gestural drawings of figures and clothing or the masterful use of tone and value in compositions.
At 130 pages, with even monochromatic illustrations rendered in color, the book is packed with Raleigh’s breezy, elegant and often amusing or dramatic illustrations — beautifully printed and with a tipped in print — for $35.00.
If you click on the image on the Auad page, you’ll get a pop-up with a short preview of the book. For a better idea of the content, most of the illustrations you’ll see on the Henry Raleigh Archives are in the book.
(Incidentally, Auad’s beautiful book on Al Parker is currently on sale for more than half off. Auad is a small publisher specializing in great illustrators and comics artists, and their small print runs often sell out.)
There is a nice article about Raleigh on Gurney Journey that gives some additional background on the artist and his life, and I’ll list some other articles in the links provided below.