Review: Will Bradley's Graphic Art, (New Edition,) Edited by Clarence P. Hornung

1890s Biography Book review Clarence P Hornung Dover publications Graphic design Will Bradley

Rating: 4.5 stars

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One of the greatest graphic artists of the late 19th century, Will Bradley was a visionary whose work was so unique and spirited that it remains popular today, so it stands to reason that at least one book of his work is in circulation. And it's safe to say that this is one of the best editions in print.

After a brief look through it, one of the first things I found most intriguing about it was its lengthy introduction consisting not only of material contributed by Clarence P. Hornung, the editor, but also of content from a biography of Bradley that was published in the mid 1950s by the Typophiles. As Hornung explains, the biography can read a bit choppy due to abrupt alternations between the first and second person, but this is because various sources were used to compile the biography. (However, it is mostly Bradley's own writing, which would technically make it an autobiography. But, no time for semantics...)

A few more remarks I have to make on the Typophiles autobiography are these: it plays a significant role in helping the reader to understand who Bradley was as a person and not just as an artist. His zeal for life and art can be easily detected, as can his easygoing philosophy and sense of humor. It's also immensely rich with details on his personal life. One that comes to mind is the account of his impoverished childhood. His mother bought a suit that was too big for him so that he would grow into it, thus giving herself more time before shouldering the expense for a new one. ("Children grow very fast and soon it will fit you--and Mamma can't afford to buy you a new suit every year," she says.) (p. xii) One qualm I have, however, is that in places he sounds idealistic in a privileged sort of way. One example is how he describes employment in the 1890s as "leisurely contacts, kindly advice, and an appreciative pat on the back." (p. viii) (I'm 100% sure that Carnegie's steel-mill workers, for instance, would have thought differently.)

As for the bulk of the book, consisting of plates of Bradley's work in both black and white as well as in color, that is hands-down the best part. His art is very well-represented, although it mainly focuses on the 1890s, and anything after 1900 is sparse at best. (My guess is that there isn't much material available after that date anyway.) Regardless, if more were available, I would have liked to see it. Surprisingly, some of his design work, it turns out, wasn't just limited to graphics, as there are two interior design plates towards the end. It stands to reason that he would do this, however, since the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts movements were all about beautifying everyday objects, so he would naturally have tried his hand at this.

Interior designs from 1901 (plates 78 and 79)

Admittedly, I was a bit confused by the presence of both black & white and color versions of the same plates. There must have been a reason for this, but I can't say for sure what it was, and to me it appears redundant. It's nonetheless a very minor qualm when you consider how stunning the book is in general. (If you know why they did this, please don't hesitate to offer your insights in the comments below.)

The Blue Lady (color)

The Blue Lady (black and white)

To conclude, I think this book will make a tremendously useful resource for any graphic art enthusiast, not only for the abundant visual elements that could be drawn from as inspiration, but also for the insightful written content that paints a multi-dimensional portrait of the man himself.

Disclaimer: I do not earn commissions on sales of books I review at this time. This may change in future, but it will never affect the integrity of my reviews.

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