Clarkson Stanfield, R. A. (1793-1867), a renowned Victorian water-colourist, scenery designer, and book illustrator, was one of seven friends of Charles Dickens who worked collaboratively on the plates for the last four of the Christmas Books. His contributions were limited to subjects that were his forte, architectural and marine scenes:

The Chimes (1844): "The Old Church" and "Will Fern's Cottage" (two of thirteen plates).

The Cricket on the Hearth (1845): "The Carrier's Cart" (one of fourteen plates).

The Battle of Life War," "Peace," "The Nutmeg Grater" (three of thirteen plates).

The Haunted Man (1848): "The Lighthouse," "The Exterior of the Old College," and "The Christmas Party in the Great Dinner Hall" (three of seventeen plates).

Hammerton notes that Stanfield's work in the Christmas Books was "of a quiet and conventional type," and that, "if they did not add to the humour of the stories [as John Leech's drawings did] -- he was never guilty of attempting the comic -- certainly enriched the artistic side of the book in which they appeared" (15).

Most characteristic of his work in "The Lighthouse" in The Haunted Man , the sort of seascape for which Stanfield was celebrated in oils as well as in stage scenery. Born in the north of England in 1793 and apprenticed to an Edinburgh painter at the age of thirteen, he joined the British merchant service in 1808, and was impressed into the British Navy four years later. Future London journalist Douglas Jerrold and Stanfield met while both were serving as midshipman aboard the H. M. S. Namur , and collaborated on staging amateur theatricals. Once out of the Navy, Stanfield turned to theatrical scene-painting, as a result of which he met young Charles Dickens in 1837, two years after Stanfield had become an R. A. On 7 June, 1839, Dickens mentions in a letter having gone to the theatre with "Stanny" and Daniel Maclise ("Mac") to see a Buckstone play; by this point, Stanfield was very much involved in Dickens's amateur theatricals. In 1846, Stanfield withdrew from the commission to illustrate Dickens's Pictures from Italy , published by Bradbury and Evans in May of that year, because of the anti-Catholic bias of the travel book. However, in 1850 he painted a water-colour of the steam-packet Britannia , which as engraving served as the frontispiece for the cheap edition of Dickens's American Notes for General Circulation (first published by Chapman and Hall in volume form in 1842). According to Hammerton,

The original picture fetched £110, 5s. At the sale of Dickens's effects after his death in 1870. Several pictures and sketches by Stanfield were sold at that memorable sale, and all brought high prices. The most sensational item was his really spirited painting of the Eddystone Lighthouse, originally dashed off in one or two forenoons at Tavistock House as a drop scene for Wilkie Collins's drama The Lighthouse , which Dickens was producing for his private theatricals in which Stanfield was an enthusiastic helper. This canvas realised no less sum than £1039, 10s. (16)

In June, 1857, at the completion of its serial run Dickens dedicated Little Dorrit to Stanfield. When, almost ten years later, Stanfield died on 18 May, 1867, Dickens penned a touching memorial notice regarding his old friend in All the Year Round .

Works Consulted

Bentley, Nicolas; Slater, Michael; and Burgis, Nina. The Dickens Index Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Hammerton, J. A. The Dickens Picture-Book . London: Educational Book Co., 1910.

The Pilgrim Edition of the Letters of Charles Dickens, Vol. One (1820-1839) , ed. Madeline House and Graham Storey. Oxford: Clarendon, 1965.

Related Web Resources

"Clarkson Stanfield"

Tate Gallery Collections online

Created 15 December 2000; last modified 13 July 2015