William H. Robinson
(British, 1872-1944)

Born into a third generation of engraver-illustrators, and with two older brothers preceding him into the illustration field, William H. Robinson had a solid foundation to launch him into the Golden Age of illustration. When William first began his career in the arts, he had hoped to become a landscape painter. The challenges of a less commercial path into the arts quickly made an impression on William, who acknowledged that drawing for magazines was a much better means of earning income. His love for landscape remained and is evident in much of his illustration he did during his career.

 

Robinson was the youngest of three brothers. His oldest brother was Thomas Heath Robinson, who entered the illustration field in 1895 doing line work for tabloids and magazines of the day. His other brother Charles was just two years older than William; Charles had a career in book illustration. Their father had been an engraver by trade during his whole career. William learned from his whole family, who provided him with a nearly unparalleled support structure. Thomas preferred historical pieces, while Charles was becoming a major force in children’s illustration. William seemed to find his stride while working on serious, contemplative works such as Shakespeare’s The Tempest or Kipling’s A Song of the English—but it was his humorous side that would persevere and earn him his reputation.

 

Early in his career, William worked in the same circles as his brothers creating book and magazine illustrations. William had a flair for adding a touch of humor into his characters. From the cherub-like children in Kingsley’s Water Babies, to the crazy characters of his own written works, or the unusual background extras in Rabelais, William could create unfolding stories in a single image through gesture and expression. Readers and publishers wanted more of the carton style, which used complex ideas to lead the viewer to the punchline. His humor separated him from the others in the field and by the time the Golden Age was drawing to a close, it saved William’s career. In the third decade of the century, when book assignments began to dwindle, the sharp wit of a humorous of W. H. Robinson cartoon, and the distraction it provided, was in high demand, providing William with lasting employment long into his later years.

 

Menges, Jeff A. 101 Great Illustrators from the Golden Age, 1890-1925. Published by Dover Publications. Mineola, New York, 2016. p. 197.