Introduction: Boyd Houghton as an illustrator

Arthur Boyd Houghton (1836–75) was one of the most distinguished illustrators of the middle part of the nineteenth century, enjoying a status only comparable to that of Frederick Sandys, George du Maurier, and the Pre-Raphaelites. According to the Dalziel Brothers he was regarded with awe by his friends, who dubbed him ‘The Young Genius’ (p.222), and cherished his droll humour and charm. His life was nevertheless a difficult one. Handicapped by having only one eye, widowed by the death of a beloved wife whose image appears throughout his illustrations, prone to depression and finally declining into alcoholism, he only lived to the age of thirty-nine. In this respect he has to be seen as one of a tragic generation of illustrators – taking his place in the company of George Pinwell, Frederick Walker and Thomas Morten, all of whom were cut short before the age of forty. Houghton was the greatest of this group, and achieved great success despite his over-critical sense of self and tendency to regard himself as a failure.

Like many of his contemporaries he was a painter as well as an illustrator, supporting his work in oil and watercolour by drawing on wood for illustrated magazines such as Good Words and Once a Week, for children’s publications, and for a series of gift books. Houghton preferred to be seen as a painter, but only gained fame as a versatile illustrator whose work includes escapist fantasy, light comedy, journalism, and the grotesque. Laurence Housman noted his ‘range and power’ (p.29), and this judgment is echoed elsewhere.

His work in black and white is difficult to define and critics have struggled to find an adequate formulation that embraces every aspect of his large and heterogenous oeuvre. Forrest Reid’s comments are typical (1928). According to Reid, Houghton’s method was ‘naturalistic’, although ‘the realism of his work’ is ‘modified by a temperament impatient of the obvious, which inclined him to seek the bizarre and fantastic even in ordinary life’ (p.187). For Paul Goldman (1996, 2004), on the other hand, he was a journalist of the everyday, a master of the domestic, an ‘orientalist’, and a ‘dark and disturbing … poet’ of the pleasures and sufferings of childhood (p.126). Often classified as an Idyllic artist whose work bears comparison with the illustrations of Walker and Pinwell, his images might also be read in connection with the Pre-Raphaelites while bearing some relationship with the social realism of Hubert Herkomer. These apparent inconsistencies suggest the tensions within his art, and perhaps the only way to interpret Houghton’s designs is to accept their irreducible complexity, the product of an unusually inventive mind. However, it is possible to divide his work into a series of styles and themes. — Simon Cooke



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Works of Fantasy Illustration

Journalistic and other illustration

Works illustrated or co-illustrated by Houghton

Adventures of Don Quixote. London: Frederick Warne, 1866.

Ballad Stories of the Affections.Ed. Robert Buchanan. London: George Routledge [1867].

Buchanan, Robert. North Coast. London: Routledge, 1868.

Dalziels’ Illustrated Arabian Nights’ Entertainments. London: Ward & Lock, 1865.

Golden Thoughts from Golden Fountains. London: Frederick Warne & Co [1867].

Good Words London: Strahan, 1862–63.

Graphic, The. London: Luson, 1869–73.

Home Thoughts and Home Scenes. London: Routledge, 1865.

Once a Week. London: Bradbury & Evans, 1865–67.

Round of Days, A. London: Routledge, 1866.

Secondary materials

Art Journal, The. London: Virtue, 1865.

Brothers Dalziel, The: A Record of Work. 1901; rpt. London: Batsford, 1978.

Cooke, Simon. ‘A Bitter After-Taste: The Illustrated Gift Book of the 1860s’. Reading Victorian Illustration, 1855–1875. Eds. Paul Goldman and Simon Cooke. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2012, pp. 53–78.

de Maré, Eric. The Victorian Woodblock Illustrators. London: Gordon Fraser, 1980.

H. W. Dulcken, ed. Dalziel's Arabian Nights' Entertainments London: Ward, Lock, and Tyler, nd.

Goldman, Paul. Children’s Illustration in the Sixties. Children’s Books History Society, Occasional Paper 4 (October 1995).

Goldman, Paul. Victorian Illustration. Aldershot: Scolar, 1996; Lund Humphries, 2004.

Hogarth, Paul. Arthur Boyd Houghton. London: Gordon Fraser, 1981.

Housman, Laurence. Arthur Boyd Houghton. London: Kegan Paul, 1896.

Kooistra, Lorraine. ‘Home Thoughts and Home Scenes: Packaging Middle-Class Childhood for Christmas Consumption’. The Nineteenth Century Child and Consumer Culture. Ed. Dennis Denisoff. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008, pp.173–86.

Reid, Forrest. Illustrators of the Sixties. London: Faber & Gwyer, 1928; rpt. New York: Dover, 1975.

Taylor, John Russell. The Art Nouveau Book in Britain. Edinburgh: Paul Harris, 1980.

Welby, T. Earle. The Victorian Romantics, 1850–70. London: Howe, 1929.

Last modified 27 August 2013