Edward Tennyson Reed was in my irrelevant and humble opinion, one of the two best line artists…pencil sketch illustrators of late 19th/early 20th century England. The precision manifest in the paucity of his graphite line intrigues me. Evidence above a la Chamberlain.
E.T. Reed by E.T. Reed
The other was his friend Phil May. Don’t take my word for it, artists of significant repute and skill such as James Abbot McNeil Whistler and caricaturist Max Beerbohm held both Reed and May in highest regard. Remember that illustrators, preceding the routine use of photography, were crucial to creating another dimension to a story. Provoking the mind’s eye without visual support is a sublime accomplishment. And we all know that I'd be shit out of luck without pictures.
Complementing said prose with an appropriate illustration was the vocation, the calling-the trade of men like Reed and May. Both artists also became famous for standalone cartoons published in various periodicals and most prolifically, they populated the pages of Punch. Reed, Phil May, Punch editor F.C. Burnand and fellow illustrator Linley Sambourne can be seen in the above photograph of a Punch editorial lunch.
I’ve always enjoyed collecting original illustrations for several reasons. Primarily, it remains one of the comparatively affordable areas of original art collecting. There are thousands of Vanity Fair prints out there for procurement but only one original from which the prints were made. That’s the sweet spot in my collecting habit. I have a few original watercolours from Vanity Fair and two or three each of Reed and May’s original drawings.
Tintin over at the Trad recently did a superb series recently on khakis. The role of khaki in the trad wardrobe has been thoroughly deconstructed by those more skilled than the likes of me...but Tintin's series did set me to thinking. I began to consider the ubiquitous fabric’s genesis and recalled all the great examples of khaki found in the Vanity Fair military caricatures—most prolific in the weekly magazine during the Boer War. My ponderances led me to great examples of khaki imperialists like Lord Roberts, Garnet Wolseley and then Kitchener. I also have a superb double sized Vanity Fair print from the Boer War era titled “A General Group”. Here are a few of my favorites….
Lord Roberts..."Bobs". Notice how artist, Sir Leslie Ward..."Spy" of Vanity Fair fame, cleverly included on the boulder behind Roberts' left, an image of "Oom Paul" Kruger, the Boer leader. Shut up.
Baden-Powell...a driving force in the formation of the Boy Scouts.
Garnet Wolseley...perhaps my favorite military caricature from Vanity Fair. He was " ... the very model of a modern Major-General . …according to Gilbert and Sullivan.
And finally, "A General Group" from Vanity Fair gives you in one fell swoop, a whole mess of the boys khaki…Colonel Plumer, General Hunter, General MacDonald, Sir Redvers Buller, General Baden-Powell, Lord Roberts, Lord Dundonald, Lord Kitchener, General Pole-Carew, Sir George White, Sir Frederick Carrington, General French.
Now on to Kitchener. One of my most prized possessions is an original pencil sketch of Kitchener rendered by E.T. Reed. It hangs in my kitchen, long since procured amongst a group of drawings that I bought for next to nothing in Cecil Court ten years ago.
I never knew the context for the annotation…”will this do for you” that anchored the bottom of the image. That is until I finally found a copy of Reed’s obscure biography.
Punch Magazine sent Reed to India in 1902 to draw scenes and personages during the Delhi Durbar. He sketched with great humility and enthusiasm many highly esteemed colonialists including Lord Curzon and at the time, Lord Kitchener, Field Marshall and Commander-in-Chief in India. Here’s what Reed says about meeting the esteemed Kitchener….
“Some 200-300 yards away from the Viceroy’s (Curzon) camp at Delhi was that of Kitchener. The two great men though separated by so small a geographical interval, were, I fear, psychologically and temperamentally as poles asunder; in fact the whole area of Hindustan seemed hardly sufficient to contain then both.
To pass from one to the other, pencil in hand, as I had the privilege of doing, was an interesting study of character contrasts in high places. I found an appointment ready-made for me with Lord Kitchener. He was willing to give me a sitting and I was to be at his tent at eleven o’clock. I was. Kitchener came to the entrance of this reception tent to meet me, his bronzed face the only part of him in shadow, his light-grey suit of “mufti” in full sunlight against the deep darkness of the big tents behind him. Thanks to the kindliness of the note sent to him in advance, he received me with boyish cheeriness that would have put most people at ease.
I had only met him a few times and on each occasion he was jovial, hearty, almost boisterous; and unlike the forbidding and unapproachable “Sphinx”. Patting his chest with a familiarity which I envied he said “I’m afraid this civilian sort of kit won’t be quite what you want for a drawing, will it? I expect you like something military if I can find it wouldn’t you?” and he went off humming gaily to himself to see what he could unearth. He came back in a short, close-fitting black tunic, with heavy black braids hanging in tabs, and with a close-fitting braided collar. I was wondering what on earth it could be; it reminded me a little of the undress, black-braided frock-coat of the “Guards” officers, but this was a short tunic. He asked me with a most seductive deference, “Will this do for you?” He went on to say (and this is important): “I’ve no idea what this tunic is—I believe it’s perfectly obsolete and no one else wears one that I know of, but I find it comfortable so I do.”
He then gave me a considerable sitting in his study, at which the talk, on his side, was intensely interesting. He spoke of Botha, his old antagonist in the Transvaal.
He also said that a cartoon of mine, chaffing him for the long drawn out campaign in South Africa had been sent to him by the Boers …under a flag of truce. “It was the first time I’d seen the wretched thing” he said. It’s one thing to chaff Lord Kitchener in Punch when you are in London and he is in South Africa, but it’s different when you are face- to-face, with your knees almost touching-mine were almost knocking!”
Talk about a back story... I was beyond thrilled after I read this passage in Reed’s biography and then placed this original drawing, out of the frame, in my hands. Had the hand of Kitchener touched the same frail onion skin drawing paper that I now held? Most assuredly Reed would have turned his sketch pad around for Lord Kitchener to view the final rendering. Most of my drawings, watercolours, etchings, lithographs and paintings—both at home and in my office have a story. None, save one lithograph, has as interesting a provenance as my Kitchener pencil sketch.
Kitchener in pencil...from Delhi to London…then published in Punch to wherever for decades and finally...courtesy of Reed, to my kitchen.
Onward. Doing for me—suitably indeed.