Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) Though well known as a writer, G K Chesterton was also a talented artist, and originally trained to become an illustrator. Working in pen and ink and coloured chalks, he illustrated his own books and those of his close friends, Hilaire Belloc and E C Bentley, in a highly distinctive style. G K Chesterton was born in Campden Hill, London, on 29 May 1874, the son of an estate agent. His parents encouraged him in his artistic and literary interests, and he developed a particular enthusiasm for toy theatre. According to Alzina Stone Dale, his toy theatre ‘formed his artistic imagination, for in all his work Chesterton kept the clear, sharp view of a child, where the relationship between the visual and the moral is intimate and organic’ (page 82). His interest in the toy theatre would remain late into life as he employed cardboard figures, in his illustrative style, in performances for his godchildren. Chesterton helped to form the Junior Debating Club while a pupil at St Paul’s School and, despite his studies at the Slade School of Art (1892-95), remained happier in the company of the club’s associates, notably E C Bentley, and Bentley’s Oxford friend, Hilaire Belloc.
An affable, clubbable man, Chesterton developed his (anti-Shavian) ideas on culture, society and religion through many articles and such allegorical fiction as The Man Who Was Thursday (1908) and The Innocence of Father Brown (1911). Encouraged by Belloc, he finally converted to Roman Catholicism in 1922, and so created a position from which he could defend what he considered to be Western values; the resulting climate would affect important writers of the younger generation, including T S Eliot and W H Auden. At the same time, Chesterton helped Belloc financially, by illustrating – often co-writing – a number of his novels and, from 1925, he edited his own periodical, G K’s Weekly. During the last six years of his life, he also discovered his great talent for radio broadcasting. In 1934, Pope Pius XI made both he and Belloc Knight Commanders of Saint Gregory, but Chesterton died two years later, at his home in Beaconsfield, on 14 June 1936. His work is represented in the collections of the British Library.