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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THE ELFIN KING'S HOUSE KEEPER by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

THE ELFIN KING'S HOUSE KEEPER

THE REAL SOLDIER by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

THE REAL SOLDIER

THERE WAS A SHIP OF RIO SAILED OUT INTO THE BLUE AND NINE AND NINETY MONKEYS WERE ALL HER JOVIAL CREW by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

THERE WAS A SHIP OF RIO SAILED OUT INTO THE BLUE AND NINE AND NINETY MONKEYS WERE ALL HER JOVIAL CREW

HOW HAST THOU DONE, MY DEAREST DAPPLE? by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

HOW HAST THOU DONE, MY DEAREST DAPPLE?

FAIRER RATIONING
RATIONING BUTTER BY DISPLACEMENT OF CUSTOMER by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

FAIRER RATIONING RATIONING BUTTER BY DISPLACEMENT OF CUSTOMER

OLD DECREPIT MEN UPON THE BRINKS OF CHARON'S BANKS by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

OLD DECREPIT MEN UPON THE BRINKS OF CHARON'S BANKS

XMAS LEGENDS   THE FIRST ROAST TURKEY
AN OLD LEGEND THAT ATTRIBUTED THE DISCOVERY OF ROAST TURKEY TO THE MONKS IN THE 13TH CENTURY by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

XMAS LEGENDS THE FIRST ROAST TURKEY AN OLD LEGEND THAT ATTRIBUTED THE DISCOVERY OF ROAST TURKEY TO THE MONKS IN THE 13TH CENTURY

AN UNRECORDED ECLIPSE OF THE SUN
AN ASTRONOMICAL NOTE by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

AN UNRECORDED ECLIPSE OF THE SUN AN ASTRONOMICAL NOTE

OH! I AM A DEAD WOMAN by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

OH! I AM A DEAD WOMAN

UP JUMPED THE BOY AND OUT HE RAN by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

UP JUMPED THE BOY AND OUT HE RAN

HE CUT A COUPLE OF CAPERS IN THE AIR by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

HE CUT A COUPLE OF CAPERS IN THE AIR

THE LORD SUCKFIST PLEADED BEFORE PANTAGRUEL by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

THE LORD SUCKFIST PLEADED BEFORE PANTAGRUEL

ISOPEL - WAS ALWAYS BEING PHOTOGRAPHED WITH HER PAPA by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

ISOPEL - WAS ALWAYS BEING PHOTOGRAPHED WITH HER PAPA

BUT EPIMETHEUS WAS A VERY SLOW FELLOW, CERTAINLY, AND WENT AMONG MEN FOR A CLOD, AND A MUFF, AND A MILKSOP by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

BUT EPIMETHEUS WAS A VERY SLOW FELLOW, CERTAINLY, AND WENT AMONG MEN FOR A CLOD, AND A MUFF, AND A MILKSOP

TRIBOULET by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

TRIBOULET

THE OTHER POINT OF VIEW
MOTHER 'FLU GERM TO HER YOUNGEST   COME BACK AT ONCE, FLUELLYN,   CAN'T YOU SEE HE'S GOT IT ALREADY,   YOU'LL CATCH IT YOURSELF BEFORE YOU'VE DONE, AND GIVE IT TO THE REST OF THE FAMILY by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

THE OTHER POINT OF VIEW MOTHER 'FLU GERM TO HER YOUNGEST COME BACK AT ONCE, FLUELLYN, CAN'T YOU SEE HE'S GOT IT ALREADY, YOU'LL CATCH IT YOURSELF BEFORE YOU'VE DONE, AND GIVE IT TO THE REST OF THE FAMILY

DISGUISED AS A NEUTRAL, THE FIRST LORD PERPETRATES ANOTHER UNSPORTSMANLIKE OUTRAGE ON THE GERMAN NAVY by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

DISGUISED AS A NEUTRAL, THE FIRST LORD PERPETRATES ANOTHER UNSPORTSMANLIKE OUTRAGE ON THE GERMAN NAVY

CONTEMPTIBLE PLOT BY THE FIRST LORD AND HIS GANG TO INJECT FLUE GERMS INTO 
FIELD MARSHALL GOERING BY HYDRAULIC PRESSURE by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

CONTEMPTIBLE PLOT BY THE FIRST LORD AND HIS GANG TO INJECT FLUE GERMS INTO FIELD MARSHALL GOERING BY HYDRAULIC PRESSURE

HMS WINSTONIA
THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY'S NEW WAISTCOAT POCKET BATTLESHIP by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

HMS WINSTONIA THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY'S NEW WAISTCOAT POCKET BATTLESHIP

LORD HAW HAW'S LATEST REVELATION
INHUMAN CONSPIRACY BY THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY TO KIDNAP GOERING'S BABY by WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON

LORD HAW HAW'S LATEST REVELATION INHUMAN CONSPIRACY BY THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY TO KIDNAP GOERING'S BABY