Marcus Stone as recently elected Associate of the Royal Academy from the 1877 Illustrated London News

When Frank Stone, whom Dickens affectionately refers to in his correspondence as "Old Tone," died in 1859, Dickens recommended his nineteen-year-old son Marcus to his publishers for commissions for frontispieces for two books in the Cheap Edition (Little Dorrit and A Tale of Two Cities) and for illustrations for three in the Library Edition:Pictures from Italy (1862: four illustrations), American Notes (1862: four illustrations), A Child's History of England (1862: eight illustrations), and Great Expectations (1862: eight illustrations). Marcus Clayton Stone (1840-1921), second son of artist Frank Stone, was virtually Dickens's adopted son after Frank Stone's death in 1859, staying a month each year at Gad's Hill (purchased by Dickens on 14 March 1856), Rochester, with the novelist's family. The other Stone children were Ellen, Arthur Paul, and Lilian Bertha.

Marcus Stone's love-affair with illustrated Dickens began in 1852, when the twelve-year-old eagerly purchased each number of Bleak House (illustrated by Phiz) as it came out, attempting to sketch of Jo, the crossing-sweeper, in the graveyard scene in Chapter 11. Kitton recounts the story of how, just as the young artist had finished his pencil sketch, the novelist himself entered the room, and remarked to the boy: "Well, now, that is very good. You will have to give that to me" (193). Accordingly, the drawing was sent to Tavistock House; a year later, in return, the boy received an autographed copy of A Child's History of England, dated 19 December 1853, and containing a hand-written note acknowledging the excellence of the young artist's illustration of the weird scene from Bleak House. As a youngster Marcus Stone had one other highly significant connection with the Dickens circle: acting in "The Smallest Theatre in the World" (as Dickens termed the converted schoolroom in Tavistock House). Young Stone, following in his father's theatrical footsteps, played the Captain of the Guard in Dickens's production of Planché's fairy extravaganza Fortunio, and a British naval officer in the first run of the Collins-Dickens collaboration The Frozen Deep.

In 1858, despite his lack of formal training (for which he compensated by observing his father in his studio), Marcus had exhibited "At Rest," depicting an aged knight in armour lying under a tree. Just ten days after Frank Stone's death, on 26 November 1859 Dickens wrote to his publisher, Edward Chapman, recommending that Marcus Stone be given a commission to illustrate a book "should the opportunity arise." On the same day, Dickens wrote a similar, laudatory note to the publisher John Murray, commending a painting recently exhibited by Marcus Stone (likely "Silent Reading," a sentimental narrative painting which shows the dramatic moment when the squire and the village constable discover in a shed on the landowner's property a tramp and child asleep in each other's arms) "as the work of a young man of remarkable power and promise" (Letters 9: 171). Dickens likewise recommended Marcus Stone as an illustrator to publisher Thomas Longman, but neither Longmans nor Murrays ever employed the younger Stone in that capacity.

Dickens, having dismissed Hablot Knight Browne ("Phiz") as his official illustrator after the monthly serialisation of A Tale of Two Cities in 1859, required a new artist with a contemporary, so-called "Sixties" look (initiated by the artists Millais, Fred Walker, Sandys, and Leighton, all of whom worked for the recently-established illustrated monthly magazine The Cornhill, edited by W. M. Thackeray) for the monthly numbers of Our Mutual Friend, the first which number of which went on sale on 1 May 1864. Remarks Hammerton of Stone's drawings for the novel: "we are at once conscious of an enormous advance in their artistic quality and the disappearance of the old hearty humour of Phiz and Cruikshank" (19): the Sixties look, though vigorous and lifelike, was much more earnest and somber than the style of the earlier school of Victorian illustration. Among the other works which the younger Stone subsequently illustrated for Chapman and Hall was the Illustrated Library edition of A Tale of Two Cities; logically, the firm should merely have reproduced Phiz's monthly-part illustrations which appeared in the book's first edition, but Dickens seems to have blamed Browne for the poor monthly sales of the novel. Hesketh Pearson reports that, when Great Expectations appeared in volume form, there was general surprise that young Stone rather than the venerable Phiz had been chosen as the illustrator.

Stone's figures are more realistic and involve less caricature than Phiz's, and he engraved the drawing on wood rather than etched on steel plate as Browne had done. For the monthly instalments of Our Mutual Friendyoung Stone designed a monthly wrapper which involved a series of tableaux depicting the story's principal figures and incidents, submitting the sketch to Dickens for his approval. On 23 February 1864 Dickens responded with specific suggestions for improvement: he proposed changes in the lettering, replacing the dustman with Wegg and Boffin, and placing the dustman in the inspector's place, eliminating the murder reward bill entirely. In the monthly plates, Dickens let the artist please himself as to which of Wegg's legs should be artificial, and generally permitted Stone complete freedom in the subjects he chose to illustrate--providing the sketches were always submitted to the novelist for his approval. Perhaps this fact explains why Dickens permitted Stone to caricature so obviously his business agent and friend John Forster as the self-complacent and xenophobic Mr. Podsnap in the dinner party scene (Book 2, Chapter 3), in which Podsnap sits to the right of Veneering. Although the drawings were then engraved by the Brothers Dalziel, they were not always up to the high standards publishers expected of that firm.

Mr. Marcus Stone claims the credit of bringing into repute the now universal [i. e., by 1899] custom of duplicating drawing upon woodblocks by means of photography, his illustrations for Anthony Trollope's story, "He Knew He was Right, being the first thus treated. The adoption of this plan secures the preservation of the original designs, and therefore renders them available for comparison with the engraved reproductions. Mr. Stone, nevertheless, is by no means satisfied with the engraver's treatment of his work, nor is this surprising when we critically examine such deplorable examples of wood-engraving as instanced in the illustrations entitled "The Garden on the Roof" and "Eugene's Bedside." In one of the designs [for Our Mutual Friend], that representing Boffin's Progress," it will be noticed that the wheels on the "off"-side of the Boffin chaise are omitted, an oversight (explains Mr. Stone) for which the engraver is really responsible. [Kitton 200-201]

According to an interview originally published in London's Morning Post and reprinted in The Dickensian 8 (August 1912) 216-217, Marcus Stone asserted that, when illustrating both Great Expectations in the 1862 Library Edition and Our Mutual Friend two years later, he would receive proofs directly from Dickens then choose his own subjects for each instalment. "I then sent them [the drawings] on for his [Dickens's] approval, and i have no recollection that he ever rejected one," reminisced the artist. Stone also recalled that, when he would receive his drawings back from the novelist, each would have a title inscribed underneath, a recollection which (if accurate) suggests that the captions for the plates in Our Mutual Friend represent the author's rather than the artist's intention. However, as Philip Collins in Dickens: Interviews and Recollections (London: Macmillan, 1981) concludes, Stone's aging memory must have blended the circumstances surrounding the illustration of the later novel with those for the former since the text of Great Expectations with which he was working was not monthly proofs at all, but the story as it appeared in All the Year Round (1 December 1860-3 August 1861) and in volume form shortly thereafter.

Paul Schlicke in "Illustrations and Book Illustration" in The Oxford Companion to Dickens is charitable in describing Stone's work on Dickens as "wholly undistinguished" (254) since, despite the solidity of his figures, the young artist often chooses scenes lacking in dramatic possibilities and offers so little of the telling background detail that is characteristic of most of Dickens's chosen illustrators. In the Chapman and Hall Library Edition of 1862, "Stone works within the sentimental-realist tradition of the black-and-white graphic artists of the 1860s" (291). The only one of his eight pictures for Great Expectations that has been frequently reproduced is the frontispiece "With Estella After All," an ingenious title devised by Dickens to complement the solid figure of the very adult lovers as they seem to support one another both physically and emotionally in what must be (despite a total lack of background detail) the ruined garden of Satis House in the ultimate chapter's revised ending. W. A. Fraser (1912) singled this plate out for praise as a fitting companion to Dickens's letter-press. Stone's illustrations for Great Expectations were reprinted in the Charles Dickens Edition, the second Illustrated Library Edition (1873-6, 30 volumes), and the Gadshill Edition (1897-8, 34 volumes). In "Charles Dickens and His Illustrators" (Retrospectus and Prospectus: The Nonesuch Dickens, pp. 9-52), Arthur Waugh points out that Stone's working in the medium of the woodcut rather than the old-fashioned steel engraving is largely responsible for "entirely different appearance" (Worth 48) of his plates for Great Expectations and Our Mutual Friend.

Illustrated programs for the short novel, originally issued in three volumes by Chapman and Hall in 1861 without any plates although accompanied by 27 of New York artist J. McLenan's plates in the American serialisation, were subsequently provided in the nineteenth century by Charles Green, R. I. (volume 22 of the Gadshill Edition), W. A Fraser (28 plates for the 1875 Household Edition), and F. W. Pailthorpe (21 etchings for a special edition of illustrations keyed to the volume and page numbers of the 1861 Chapman and Hall edition, but published by Robson and Kerslake in 1885). What separates Stone's illustrations from those of the later artists is not talent but Dickens's involvement in the designs. Jane Rabb Cohen (1980) refers to Stone's eight Great Expectations plates as his first major commission (204). Despite his youth, Chapman and Hall first recruited Stone at the insistence of Dickens himself to provide a frontispiece for the Cheap Edition of Little Dorrit. Although, according to Cohen, as a result of Dickens's having procured for him numerous commissions, Marcus Stone had acquired sufficient commercial experience by the age of 24, and had become fairly "familiar with the wood techniques that were so popular with the new artists of the 1860's" [204]) when he subsequently supplied those same publishers with illustrations for the 1862 Library Edition of American Notes , Pictures from Italy, and A Child's History of England.

In Dickens and His Illustrators (London: 1899), F. G. Kitton refers to Luke Fildes and Marcus Stone not as artistic neophytes but as "popular Royal Academicians" (ix), suggesting that by the end of the century their work was held in high regard. Kitton merely mentions Stone's Great Expectations plates as being part of a series of seven sets the younger Stone executed, the last of these being the Frontispiece for the First Cheap Edition of A Tale of Two Cities (1864). Kitton alone out of all critics of illustrations for Dickens has pronounced Stone's work as "characterized by the very essential quality of always telling their story" (202).

In another piece entitled "Dickens and His Illustrators" (this appearing in Charles Dickens 1812-1870: A Centenary Volume, edited by E. W. F. Tomlin), modern art critic Nicolas Bentley is not nearly so charitable:

The defense of youth as an excuse for Stone's inadequacy would be easier to sustain--he was twenty-four when he illustrated Our Mutual Friend--were it not that the talents of Millais, Holman Hunt, Richard Doyle, Keene and others were considerably more precocious than his own. The fact is that whatever other talents he may have developed--later in life he achieved some degree of fame and fortune as a painter of maudlin pot-boilers with a Regency flavour--as an illustrator he was no better than a hack. [Bentley 224]

After working for such illustrated magazines as The Cornhill, by the time that Dickens was publishing The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Marcus Stone had given up book illustration and, like his father, became an accomplished painter whose works were in demand, and therefore commanded high prices. Although both father and son exhibited their paintings at the Royal Academy, the elder Stone was merely an Associate of the Royal Academy whereas Marcus's superiority in painting earned him the full status of an R. A. in 1887 after being elected to Associate status ten years earlier Especially noteworthy are Marcus Stone's illustrations of moments from Shakespeare's plays:

1. 1861: "Claudio, Deceived by Don John, Accuses Hero" Act IV, Scene i, of Much Ado About Nothing (oil sketch for a larger study exhibited at the Royal Academy).

2. 1874: "Lear and Cordelia" (engraved by W. Ridgway for The Art Journal, 36: 244).

3. 1888: "Ophelia" (part of an exhibition of twenty-one paintings sponsored by the weekly journal the Graphic in a series of pictures called "Shakespeare's Heroines").

Related Materials


Bentley, Nicolas. "Dickens and His Illustrators." Charles Dickens 1812-1870: A Centenary Volume. Ed. E. W. F. Tomlin. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson; New York: Simon and Shuster, 1969. Pp. 205-227.

Cohen, Jane R. "Frank Stone." Chapter 13 in Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1980. Pp. 203-209.

David Purdue's "Dickens Page: Illustrations."

Fraser, W. A. "The Illustrations of Dickens: IV: Marcus Stone, R. A." Dickensian 2 (October 1906): 263-6.

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

Kaplan, Fred. Dickens: A Biography. New York: William Morrow, 1988.

Kitton, Frederic G. Dickens and His Illustrators. London: George Redway, 1899. Amsterdam: S. Emmering, 1972.

The Letters of Charles Dickens. General editors Madeline House, Graham Storey, and Kathleen Tillotson. Vol. 9 (1859-1861), ed. Madeline House, Graham Storey, and Kathleen Tillotson. Oxford: Clarendon, 1997.

"Mr. Marcus Stone, R. A., and Charles Dickens." Dickensian 8 (August 1912): 216-217.

Pearson, Hesketh. Dickens. 1949. London: Cassell, 1988.

"Shakespeare Illustrated."

Marcus Stone Charles Dickens

Last modified 9 March 2004; image added 20 May 2017