WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON (1872-1944)

William Heath Robinson

William Heath Robinson (1872-1944)


Heath Robinson is a household name, and a byword for a design or construction that is ‘ingeniously or ridiculously read more...

William Heath Robinson
William Heath Robinson (1872-1944)

Heath Robinson is a household name, and a byword for a design or construction that is ‘ingeniously or ridiculously over-complicated’ (as defined by The New Oxford Dictionary of English, 1998, page 848). Yet, he was also a highly distinctive and versatile illustrator, whose work could touch at one extreme the romantic watercolours of a Dulac or Rackham, at another the sinister grotesqueries of a Peake, and at yet another the eccentricities of an Emett.

William Heath Robinson was born on 31 May 1872 in Islington, North London, the third son of Thomas Robinson, chief staff artist of the Penny Illustrated Paper. In the hope of becoming a landscape painter, he studied at Islington School of Art and the Royal Academy Schools, but soon followed his brothers, Charles and Tom, into the more secure profession of illustration. He contributed to periodicals from 1896 and, in the following year, began to illustrate books. He established his position in 1902, marking his individuality with illustrations to his own book, The Adventures of Uncle Lubin, and ensuring his financial stability by making his first drawings for advertising. In this first phase, he worked almost exclusively in black and white, fully demonstrating his mastery of monochrome in The Works of Francis Rabelais. This appeared in 1904, just as Grant Richards, his main patron and the book’s publisher, became bankrupt. However, he was able to work with other publishers, developing his use of colour in order to produce true gift books; these began with Twelfth Night (Hodder, 1908), and included his own story, Bill the Minder (Constable, 1912), and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Constable, 1914).

Though Robinson competed with others in the field of the gift book, he remained the unparalleled practitioner of the comic image. He produced an increasing number of humorous drawings for magazines and, from the First World War, was acknowledged the most original illustrator of his time. To the general public, as represented by the popular press, he was known as the ‘Gadget King’, that is as the inventor of perversely logical contraptions that gently mocked the products of the industrial age and so endeared society to its own rapid rate of change. He exploited this persona, by appearing on radio and television, designing a house for the
Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition (1934), and parodying the self-help manual in a series of books which began with How to Live in a Flat (written with K R G Browne, 1936). His major set of literary illustrations in this later period further blurred the distinction between fiction and reality: Norman Hunter’s The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm (1933) concerned an amiable, eccentric inventor. The events of the Second World War, as experienced on both sides of the English Channel, enabled him to sustain his powers of invention even into his final work. He died in Highgate, North London, on 13 September 1944.

His work is represented in the collections of the British Museum, The Cartoon Museum, the V&A and The West House and Heath Robinson Museum Trust.

Further reading:
Geoffrey Beare,
The Art of William Heath Robinson, London: Dulwich Picture Gallery, 2003; Geoffrey Beare, The Brothers Robinson, London: Chris Beetles Ltd, 1992; Geoffrey Beare, Heath Robinson Advertising, London: Bellew, 1992; Geoffrey Beare, The Illustrations of W Heath Robinson, London: Werner Shaw, 1983; Geoffrey Beare, William Heath Robinson 1872-1944, London: Chris Beetles Ltd, 2011; Langston Day, The Life and Art of W Heath Robinson, London: Herbert Joseph, 1947; James Hamilton, William Heath Robinson, London: Pavilion Books, 1992; Simon Heneage, ‘Robinson, William Heath (1872-1944)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 47, pages 428-431;John Lewis, Heath Robinson. Artist and Comic Genius, London: Constable, 1973

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SELECTING A MATE   WHICH SHALL IT BE by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

SELECTING A MATE WHICH SHALL IT BE

I SINK, I SINK, HAH, MY FATHER, MY UNCLE, MY ALL by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

I SINK, I SINK, HAH, MY FATHER, MY UNCLE, MY ALL

AS LEAN AS A RAKE by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

AS LEAN AS A RAKE

HEADING TO 'THE MERCHANTS WIFE' by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

HEADING TO 'THE MERCHANTS WIFE'

A REDSNOUT CATCHPOLE by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

A REDSNOUT CATCHPOLE

HOW IS'ST MY TOP by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

HOW IS'ST MY TOP

A LAW CAT by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

A LAW CAT

WHO DISGUISE THEMSELVES LIKE MASKERS TO DECEIVE THE WORLD by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

WHO DISGUISE THEMSELVES LIKE MASKERS TO DECEIVE THE WORLD

ALL AGREED THAT WILLIAM SHOULD HAVE CAMILLA by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

ALL AGREED THAT WILLIAM SHOULD HAVE CAMILLA

FELT HIMSELF SINKING by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

FELT HIMSELF SINKING

WHEN JOLT HAD CARRIED HIM HOME by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

WHEN JOLT HAD CARRIED HIM HOME

WILLIAM DID ALL THE COOKING by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

WILLIAM DID ALL THE COOKING

MY DEAR FELLOW, I'M ALMOST DEAD by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

MY DEAR FELLOW, I'M ALMOST DEAD

HE HAD A BIG CANDLE ON THE TABLE BY HIS BED by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

HE HAD A BIG CANDLE ON THE TABLE BY HIS BED

NO ONE EXCEPT THE KITCHEN CAT THOUGHT WELL OF PENNYWORT II by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

NO ONE EXCEPT THE KITCHEN CAT THOUGHT WELL OF PENNYWORT II

AND ASK'D HIM WHY HE DID SO TOIL HIS BODY by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

AND ASK'D HIM WHY HE DID SO TOIL HIS BODY

THE EDITING OF 'THE WOMAN ABOUT TOWN' by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

THE EDITING OF 'THE WOMAN ABOUT TOWN'

HOW TO DISPENSE WITH SERVANTS IN THE BEDROOM
 by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

HOW TO DISPENSE WITH SERVANTS IN THE BEDROOM

THE TEST FOR FREEDOM FROM BLEEDING AND PICKING UP by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

THE TEST FOR FREEDOM FROM BLEEDING AND PICKING UP

1935 MAYOR & MAYORESS IN STATE ATTENDED BY THE SURVEYOR & HIGHWAYS COMMITTEE OPENING THE NEW DUROID MACADAM ROAD.
1975 THE SAME COMMITTEE WATCHING VAIN ENDEAVOURS TO SCARIFY THE ROAD AT A LATER DATE by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

1935 MAYOR & MAYORESS IN STATE ATTENDED BY THE SURVEYOR & HIGHWAYS COMMITTEE OPENING THE NEW DUROID MACADAM ROAD. 1975 THE SAME COMMITTEE WATCHING VAIN ENDEAVOURS TO SCARIFY THE ROAD AT A LATER DATE