Luigi Rossi (1853-1923): Symbolist Painter and Book Illustrator

Symbolist Swiss painter Luigi Rossi  (1853-1923) was a relative stranger to English book illustration. He had studied at the Accademia di Brera in Milan under Giuseppe Bertini, and in the 1870s and early 1880s had devoted himself to landscape painting.  During the period 1885-89 in Paris he began to work in the French publication trade as an illustrator of novels. Undoubtedly, this experience brought him to the attention of journalist, author, literary critic, and collector Clement Shorter, editor of the Dickens Centenary edition of Dickens's Christmas Books (1843-48).


Charles Green, a member of the Royal Institute of Watercolourists, had died in 1898 with the Pears commission for a new five-volume set of Dickens's Christmas Books incomplete. Consequently, Rossi here appears to have adopted a style of illustration markedly similar to that of the veteran Household Edition illustrator, but to have produced only two types of illustration: ten, generally full-page, framed scenes like the frontispiece, and a dozen, much smaller thumbnail vignettes. Rossi makes few visual allusions to the originak illustrations by John Leech, Richard Doyle, Edward Landseer, and Daniel Maclise in the autumn of 1845. Since Dickens could not rely on a single illustrator to meet his publication deadline that autumn, he had resorted to the expedient of contracting five. No such exigency was necessary in the case of the five-volume Pears' Centenary Edition, but, presumably acting upon the advice of the editor, Clement Shorter, the publisher appointed a relatively unknown illustrator to fill Green's shoes. The title of the initial, full-page plate is given as A MMMerry Christmas in the "List of Illustrations" on page 11, but has only the following caption beneath it: "There was a dance in the evening . . . Bertha's harp was there."

Green had already prepared the programs of illustration for the other Christmas Books some years before: Volume 1, A Christmas Carol (1892: twenty-seven lithographs); Volume 4, The Battle of Life (1893: twenty-nine lithographs); Volume 2, The Chimes (1894: thirty lithographs); and Volume 5, The Haunted Man (1895: thirty lithographs). Presumably, as this was to be a "Centenary" project, A & F Pears was in no rush to get these books into print. However, Green's death in 1898 necessitated the hiring of another illustrator.

Illustrations by John Leech et. al. for The Cricket on the Hearth (1845)

Illustrations by L. Rossi for the Pears' Centenary Edition (1912)

Illustrations for the Other Volumes of the Pears' Centenary Christmas Books of Charles Dickens (1912)

Each contains about thirty illustrations from original drawings by Charles Green, R. I. — Clement Shorter (1912)


Dickens, Charles. The Cricket on the Hearth. A Fairy Tale of Home. Illustrated by John Leech, Daniel Maclise, Richard Doyle, Clarkson Stanfield, and Edwin Landseer. Engraved by George Dalziel, Edward Dalziel, T. Williams, J. Thompson, R. Graves, and Joseph Swain. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1846 [December 1845].

_____. The Cricket on the Hearth. Illustrated by L. Rossi. London: A & F Pears, 1912.

Last modified 26 March 2020