Saturday, February 13, 2010


William Hatherell was a Victorian era illustrator who worked for magazines such as The Graphic, Harpers, Scribner's and the Century. Today he is mostly remembered for crudely printed images such as these:

The printing technology in Hatherell's day was pretty primitive. Combined with cheap paper stock, it stripped Hatherell's work of much of its sensitivity and expressiveness. Of course, like all resourceful artists Hatherell made the best of his limitations; he emphasized strong compositions and high contrasts that could survive the publication process.

But he did more.

Hatherell might easily have used the disadvantages of his medium as an excuse for dashing off fast, limited work. Many artists did. In fact, his employers encouraged him to do so, in order to increase productivity and profits. Instead, Hatherell worked carefully and deliberately, crafting sensitive pictures with subtle features that were undetectable to his larger audience. As one contemporary noted, Hatherell stubbornly refused to lower his standards:
Hatherell became noted for his refusal to be pressured into hasty work. For illustrating current events, for instance, he used models, often carefully posed in his backyard....
When you go back and look at Hatherell's original pictures, you can see the extra effort he put into touches such as subtle shading and expressive faces and gestures:


These delicate touches were difficult and time consuming. Many of them would be undetectable by the reading public. Why did he do all that extra work trying to get it right? Perhaps he shared the view of Robert Fawcett, which I have previously cited on this blog:
The argument that "it won't be appreciated anyway" may be true, but in the end this attitude does infinitely more harm to the artist than to his client.
Easy to say for one picture. Hard to sustain for a career.

Note how well Hatherell handles the positions of the fingers, or the definition of the flowers which would be lost in the printed version.

Hatherell toiled his entire life accepting that publication would degrade the quality of his pictures. He had no defense to this handicap except his wits and his personal integrity. Of course, today almost any artist can publish sharp, high resolution images to the world at the push of a button. We tend to underestimate the competitive advantage that this gives our work over the work of our talented predecessors such as Hatherell.

Hatherell and some of his peers were a lot better than we remember them today, based on their published work. Now that it is possible to recapture the true quality of their original pictures, we owe it to them to honor all those long afternoons they put into trying to get it right when they thought no one might ever know the difference.


Canuck said...

It's interesting how a medium determines the cultural worth of a illustration. Often when that same artwork that is produced in a 'low' publication changes mileau and is introduced to a fresh culture and fresh eyes, it acquires a new appreciation and sophistication.

One example is the importation of Japanese woodcut prints into Europe. Those woodcut prints would be akin to mundane cheap throwaway pulp magazines to the original culture but was galvanizing to Western eyes. It influenced French impressionism, postimpressionism , cubism (Degas, Cezanne, Picasso, et al) with its angled viewpoints, flow of line, flattening of perspective, et cetera.

Flowing the other direction from the West to Japan would be comic books. In the west comics are mostly seen as kid's stuff — silly meaningless juvenilia that most would outgrow. In Japan they took comics more seriously. Everybody — businessmen on subways, male and female university students, housewives — voraciously reads 'manga'. Ever seen a Japanese comic book? It's hundreds of pages! The range of topics is endless too: political science, economical theories, philosophy to singing idols, wrestling stars, slapstick cartoons and porn.

With today's widespread and instantaneous transmission of culture I think international societies are becoming more and more homogenized....

Laurence John said...

Canuck, foreign perspectives usually take on the patina of 'depth' that is lacking in one's own culture. it's the old 'exotic' quality... the 'foreign' standing for the wise, earthy and eternal.

Canuck said...

>>>...foreign perspectives usually take on the patina of 'depth' that is lacking in one's own culture. it's the old 'exotic' quality... the 'foreign' standing for the wise, earthy and eternal....<<<

Hmm, perhaps that explains how Jerry Lewis got his L├ęgion d'honneur...

Stephen Worth said...

It's not all that different today. When I went to republish Eugene Zimmerman's cartooning course using print on demand, I was horrified to see what happened to the images that printed out great on my own laser printer. I ended up having to print the whole book digitally in full color to get the ink lines not get all "crunchy". Digital technology is great, but it has its own set of limitations to overcome.

Rob Howard said...

David, thanks for the introduction to Hatherell.

David Apatoff said...

Canuck-- "With today's widespread and instantaneous transmission of culture I think international societies are becoming more and more homogenized...."

Sometimes that instantaneous transmission homogenizes, but sometimes doesn't it just bring stubborn and intractable cultural differences into sharper contrast? (Danish political cartoons of Mohammed can now instantly trigger riots and murder a thousand miles away).

Laurence-- we seem to alternate between being deferential to exotic foreign culture and disparaging it as unworthy. I guess we just can't manage to view it on a level playing field.

Rob-- I find him to be an interesting artist. When I skim through old magazines of that era, I find most of the drawings uninteresting, but Hatherell strikes me as someone who still has something to contribute.

Peter said...

There's a parallel in music to Hatherell's attitude. The human ear can hear tones as low as 15 cycle per second. However, if music were to be reproduced limited to what the human ear can actually hear, it would sound tinny. We need those low tones that we can't actually hear to provide resonance and depth in the tones we can. Mr Hatherell's way of doing things strikes me as doing the same thing, visually.

Joss said...

Wow, beautiful comparison to music Black Pete. Yeah maybe the details can't be seen but the spirit of the piece translates into a more fully felt expression. I think the same analogy is applicable to whenever we pour our hearts into something, like when Rob pours his heart into insulting some poor sap, he will not cut corners on his insults, noo there's art in them jibes, and those who choose to dance with him too.

Sorry I couldn't resist, but I am grateful to make the acquaintance of Hatherell, I used to obsessively visit used and new bookstores, libraries, especially university library's art sections(so many hidden gems there, must be donated collections), but now that I live in rural, conservative Washington State, I'm dependent on you Dave for a steady supply of undiscovered(by me anyway) artists and stimulating thoughts on art as well. and you come through very well. Thanks

Although I love fine art I have always been a sucker for the facility brought by the applied craft of an illustrator married to an poet's inclinations.

ellen said...


David Apatoff said...

Black Pete-- excellent! I like that analogy very much.

Joss and Ellen-- I'm glad you like Hatherell too. I think his work stands out beyond many of his contemporaries. We just don't get a fair chance to assess it.

Unknown said...

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Kyle Henry said...

Thanks for sharing this art! I admit I hadn't heard of Hatherell before this post.

Stephen Worth said...

Black Pete, that isn't true. Blind listening tests have proven that subsonic and supersonic frequencies, although they can be felt, add absolutely nothing to the perceived sound quality of music. A balanced frequency response within the core middle frequencies (10 kHz to 100 Hz) is MUCH more important than the octaves at the top and bottom of the hearing spectrum.

Oscar Woodruff said...

I love your blog. Been following it for some time now. I haven't explored your entire archive, but have you ever considered doing a write up on Heinrich Kley? I'd love to hear your thoughts on him. He's a big inspiration for me as an illustrator. Cheers!

ellen said...

love it!

Anonymous said...

Like the guy's work, and his attitude. Quality first. That's my motto too.


evandro said...

nice stuff... did u know miami has a new art facily? its called railroad arts... take a look

David Apatoff said...

Oscar-- I am a big fan of Kley too. I usually try to focus on artists where I can get access to originals, or where the artist hasn't been written about extensively, but Kley is so tempting I may have to break my own rules.

Ellen the melon-- thanks for writing. I enjoyed your blog, but isn't that valentine drawing a little depressing?

Goodguy-- that's the right motto to have!

Anonymous said...

I have a Hatherell entitled
"The Vicar of Wakefielde" 1908

I would like to have an idea of its history and value. Can anyone point me the direction to the aswers to my questions?

Jill Blee said...

Dear David,

I am trying to get a digital image of wood engraving by William Hatherel called A Gold Rush for Sovereign Hill Museums Association. Sovereign Hill is the largest out door museum in Australia and is focused on telling the story of the goldrush to its many thousands of visitors. To enhance the story they are in the process of installing a virtual exhibition of art which depicts the hopes and anguish of the people who left home to follow their fortunes on the goldfields.

If you can tell me where the original of this work is located so I can apply to have a TIFF image supplied to Sovereign Hill I would be most grateful. Could you please email me on if you can help

Jill Blee
Sovereign Hill Museums Association