With the appearance of the Graphic in December 1869 a darker hue of documentary realism becomes manifest in Victorian genre. The editor of this magazine, William Luson Thomas, invited the collaboration of a group of youthful illustrators to carry out his policy of confronting contemporary social evils with uncompromising honesty. These included Luke Fildes (1844-1927), Frank (Francis Montague) Holl (1845-88), and Hubert von Herkomer (1849-1914), all of whom, as has been said later forsook the vein of their early work for more lucrative careers as portrait painters. Fildes' initial contribution to the Graphic was the engraving entitled Houseless and Hungry, which he reworked into his famous canvas, Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward (1874). The setting is St Martin's-in-the-Fields on a wintry night; and in his naturalistic zeal the artist employed models from the shifting populace of the London streets. As a motto the work carried a quotation fron Dickens: 'Dumb, wet, silent horrors! Sphinxes set up against that dead wall, and none ikely to be at the pains of solving them until the general overthrow. — E. D. H. Johnson

Interest in the life of the larger world . . . began, I suppose, with the illustrated weeklies, of which The Graphic, then a newcomer, was our favourite. Through its pages we became aware of foreign countries, contemporary history, and prominent people kings, queens, and statesmen, living, or just dead; Victor Emmanuel, with his monstrous moustache; a very human-looking Pope, Pius IX, in a charming white costume; the Prince of Wales, very handsome, freshly recovered from the jaws of death; the Queen herself, not so handsome, but so majestically enthroned and crowned that looks did not matter; Bismarck, Gladstone, Disraeli, Cardinal Manning then only Archbishop. All these came to life for us, pictorially. Then came a big historical event the Franco-Prussian War, and the siege of Paris, with Gambetta escaping precariously in a balloon. — Laurence Housman

The Illustrated London News . . . held its position of supremacy for some twenty-seven years; and then came the man and the hour which were to produce a formidable and a lasting rival. The man was Mr. W. L. Thomas: the hour the 4th of December, 1869. Mr. W. L. Thomas was a wood-engraver of considerable skill and a younger brother of the late George Thomas, the accomplished illustrator of books, and painter of many historical pictures for the Queen. In early life Mr. W. L. Thomas accompanied his brother to Paris, the United States, and Rome; and returning to London he studied wood-engraving under the greatest modern master of the art, Mr. W. J. Linton. Applying himself with industry to his craft, he achieved success, and in his leisure hours lie took up the study of water-colour painting. His business rapidly increased, and he found himself in time at the head of one of the largest, wood-engraving establishments in London. The business was carried on first in Serjeants' Inn, Fleet Street, and afterwards in that curious little court, Palsgrave Place, Strand, swept away some years ago in the course of rebuilding and general improvement. In Mr. Thomas's office in Palsgrave Place the idea of The Graphic was conceived and carried out.

It is no secret that the new paper sprang from a quarrel or squabble between Mr. Thomas and the proprietors of The Illustrated London News. For this paper George Thomas had done a number of drawings, and Mr. W. L. Thomas was one if its chief engravers. After the death of George Thomas his relatives wished to organise a public exhibition of his works; but on applying to The Illustrated London News for the loan of some of his pictures, this request was refused. Estrangement followed, and Mr. W. L. Thomas determined to secede and start a paper of his own. The moment was opportune. The pioneer paper, long suffering from lack of competition, had become dull and sleepy. A capital of £35,000 was amply sufficient in those days to start a new paper. The money was soon forthcoming, chiefly through the aid of Mr. Lewis Thomas (a Brazilian merchant and brother of Mr. V. L. Thomas) and his friends, Mr. H. R. Baines and Mr. Holt. Mr. Nathaniel Cook, brother-in-law of the late Herbert Ingram and formerly his partner in the newsvending business at Nottingham, was a most valued guide in all the preliminary steps; and it was this early connection of Mr. Ingram's brother-in-law with The Graphic that gave rise to the rumour, still widely credited, that The Illustrated London News and The Graphic are owned by the same persons. A small limited liability company was formed in which some artists took shares, and of the capital of £25,000 only £15,000 was at first called up. Mr. Cook wrote the prospectus, and unless I am. mistaken, it was he who suggested as a title The Graphic News, which was afterwards shortened into The Graphic. Mr. Cook did not, however, live long to enjoy the success of the paper which he had a considerable share in creating. Mr. Baines, Mr. Holt, Mr. Lewis Thomas, all died within a very short time after the establishment of the new paper, leaving its direction entirely in the hands of Mr. W. L. Thomas.

The great success of The Graphic in its early days is a matter of such recent history that it is not necessary to write of it at length. Mr. Thomas has more than once publicly expressed his thanks to the body of clever and then comparatively unknown artists whose vigorous drawings soon earned for the paper a European reputation. All the men have become famous, and when we mention the names of Hubert Herkomer, Luke Fildes, Charles Green, Henry Woods, E. J. Gregory, Frank Holl, Sydney P. Hall, W. Small, and G. Durand, it will be seen that an exceptional amount of talent was employed in the service of the new journal. The outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War gave the paper its opportunity. The circulation rose by leaps and bounds, and success -- a unique success -- was assured.

Mr. H. Sutherland Edwards was the first editor of The Graphic, and he brought over with him almost the entire staff of the defunct Illustrated Times.

[The passage quoted above appears on pp. 391-93 of Williamson's article. GPL]

Relevant Materials


Housman, Laurence. The Unexpected Years. London: Jonathan Cape, 1936.

Johnson, E. D. H. “Victorian Artists and the Victorian Milieu.” in The Victorian City: Images and Realities. Ed. H. J. Dyson and Michael Wolff. 2 vols. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973. Pp. 449-74.

C.N. Williamson. "Illustrated Journalism in England: Its Development. -- III." Magazine of Art. 1890. 391-96.

Last modified 2 November 2012