Wednesday, December 27, 2006
The Mystery of Ally Sloper
Some time ago I purchased this original wash and line drawing of Ally Sloper (above). It was drawn not on artboard, but on what appear to be the endpapers of a book. In addition to the page this character is drawn on, there are two other blank pages affixed, and all three pages appear to have been torn from a book.
The drawing is by W.F. Thomas (William Fletcher Thomas) and signed by him. (In 1888 Thomas had taken over as the cover artist of Ally Sloper's Half Holiday from W.G. Baxter.) What's particularly appealing about this piece is that it's embellished with a grey wash. In the comics, Sloper was only drawn in black line (or so I believe) because of the limitations of printing, which makes this item quite unique. (No, I'm not selling it. Sorry!)
In trying to identify which year the artwork may have been drawn, I noticed that Sloper has a book under his arm and in typical Sloper fashion he's on his way to pawn it. The book carries the description: "J G Reid. His Book". Could this be a clue as to the age of the piece?
Doing a bit of detective work on the internet, it turned out that J. G. Reid was the author of a book entitled At The Sign of the Brush and Pen, published in Aberdeen in 1898.
At a guess, I imagine W. F. Thomas drew this original piece as a gift or commission for J. G. Reid around the end of the 19th Century. (Perhaps Reid had included Thomas in his book? Or the book had impressed or inspired Thomas?) I assume this drawing was done as a private "in joke" for Reid and was never published.
However, my conclusion is only conjecture. If anyone knows the origins of this artwork, if they've come across it in decades past, or if it was ever published, please get in touch. In the meantime, feel free to study a wonderful piece of Victorian artwork by clicking on the image above to see it in a much larger size.