John Hassall, RI RMS (1868-1948) John Hassall was one of the key members of the London Sketch Club, and his characteristic style, with its flat coloured planes and black outlines, so epitomised the early twentieth-century poster school that he became known as ‘king of poster artists’.
John Hassall was born in Walmer, Kent, on 21 May 1868, the son of Royal Navy Lieutenant Christopher Hassall. However, his father died when he was only eight years old, and he and his younger brother, Owen, were brought up by their mother and her second husband. He was educated in Worthing, at Newton Abbot College and then for three happy years at Neuenheim College, Heidelberg. Twice failing entry to Sandhurst, he migrated to Manitoba in Canada in 1888 to study farming with Owen; however, he returned to London two years later when he had drawings accepted by The Graphic. At the suggestion of Dudley Hardy, he studied art in Antwerp, under Charles van Havermaet, and in Paris, at the Académie Julian, under Bouguereau and Ferrier; during this time he was influenced by the poster artist Alphonse Mucha.
From 1895, he worked as an advertising artist for David Allen & Sons, a career that lasted fifty years and included such immortal projects as the poster Skegness is SO Bracing (1908). Making use of flat colours enclosed by bold black lines, his poster style was equally suitable for picture books, and he produced many delightful volumes of fairy stories and nursery rhymes, such as Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes (1909) [ ].
In 1901, Hassall was elected to the membership of both the Royal Institute of Painters in Water-Colour and the Royal Society of Miniature Painters. He also belonged to several clubs, including the Langham (until 1898), the Savage, and the London Sketch Club (of which he was a President 1903-4). David Cuppleditch has called him ‘the epitome of a good all round English clubman’ (1994, page 78). In 1900, Hassall opened his own New Art School and School of Poster Design in Kensington, with the help of his former teacher Van Havermaet; he numbered Bert Thomas, H M Bateman and Harry Rountree among his students. In 1908, the school amalgamated with Frank Brangwyn’s London School, but was closed at the outbreak of the First World War. In the post war period, he ran the very successful John Hassall Correspondence School. He died on 8 March 1948.
Hassall was father to the poet, Christopher Hassall, and the illustrator, Joan Hassall.