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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LET US GO BACK by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

LET US GO BACK

ELFIN MOUNT by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

ELFIN MOUNT

LUNCHEON HOUR ON THE EMBANKMENT by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

LUNCHEON HOUR ON THE EMBANKMENT

THE BEDSIDE GAS COOKER
BREAKFAST IN BED FOR THE HARDWORKED HOUSEWIFE by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

THE BEDSIDE GAS COOKER BREAKFAST IN BED FOR THE HARDWORKED HOUSEWIFE

CUTTING THE CHRISTENING CAKE by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

CUTTING THE CHRISTENING CAKE

DENTAL INSPECTION WITH NO FUSS by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

DENTAL INSPECTION WITH NO FUSS

WHEN TEA AS WELL AS SUGAR IS RATIONED. AN ELEGANT CONTRAPTION FOR SMART OCCASIONS by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

WHEN TEA AS WELL AS SUGAR IS RATIONED. AN ELEGANT CONTRAPTION FOR SMART OCCASIONS

TEMPORARY MEASURES TO DEAL WITH SHORTAGE OF MATERIALS IN A HAGGIS MILL IN THE NORTH OF SCOTLAND by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

TEMPORARY MEASURES TO DEAL WITH SHORTAGE OF MATERIALS IN A HAGGIS MILL IN THE NORTH OF SCOTLAND

WHEN BEER IS RATIONED by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

WHEN BEER IS RATIONED

SOME OF THE FIRST LORD'S NEW IDEAS FOR ARMING MERCHANTMEN WITH DEPTH 
CHARGES AND OTHER ANTI-SUBMARINE DEVICES by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

SOME OF THE FIRST LORD'S NEW IDEAS FOR ARMING MERCHANTMEN WITH DEPTH CHARGES AND OTHER ANTI-SUBMARINE DEVICES

ANOTHER GROSS INFRINGEMENT OF THE INTERNATIONAL CODE TO BE ATTRIBUTED TO THE NAZIS. 
THE FIRST LORD DISGUISED AS A 'U' BOAT. TORPEDOING DUCKS IN KENSINGTON GARDENS by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

ANOTHER GROSS INFRINGEMENT OF THE INTERNATIONAL CODE TO BE ATTRIBUTED TO THE NAZIS. THE FIRST LORD DISGUISED AS A 'U' BOAT. TORPEDOING DUCKS IN KENSINGTON GARDENS

ANOTHER REVIVAL OF AN OLD CEREMONY
THE BIRTHDAY KISS by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

ANOTHER REVIVAL OF AN OLD CEREMONY THE BIRTHDAY KISS

SOLO BADMINTON FOR THE OVER SEVENTIES by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

SOLO BADMINTON FOR THE OVER SEVENTIES

HIGHER MATHEMATICS by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

HIGHER MATHEMATICS

CONSEQUENCES
HOW A FALLEN CRUMB MAY BE THE MEANS OF DESTROYING THE REPUTATION OF A RESPECTABLE CITIZEN by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

CONSEQUENCES HOW A FALLEN CRUMB MAY BE THE MEANS OF DESTROYING THE REPUTATION OF A RESPECTABLE CITIZEN

DRAWING RED HERRINGS ACROSS THE SANDS OF DEE by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

DRAWING RED HERRINGS ACROSS THE SANDS OF DEE

AN UNFORTUNATE START FOR THE SUMMER HOLIDAYS by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

AN UNFORTUNATE START FOR THE SUMMER HOLIDAYS

AN EARLY AND INTERESTING TYPE OF SIGNAL by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

AN EARLY AND INTERESTING TYPE OF SIGNAL

AN ERROR OF JUDGEMENT IN THE GOODS YARD by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

AN ERROR OF JUDGEMENT IN THE GOODS YARD

EARLY METHODS OF ENGINE CLEANING by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

EARLY METHODS OF ENGINE CLEANING