Linley Sambourne developed a firm and intricate style of draughtsmanship that enabled him to complement and eventually succeed John Tenniel as the political cartoonist of Punch. An enthusiastic exponent of the new art of photography, and a member of the Camera Club, he took many of the photographs that comprised his research library and informed his detailed preparation.
Linley Sambourne was born at 15 Lloyd Square, Pentonville, London, on 4 January 1844, the son of Edward Mott Sambourne, a prosperous wholesale furrier, and his wife, Frances (née Linley). He was educated at the City of London School (1855-56) and Chester Training College School (1857-60), and then apprenticed as a draughtsman to a firm of marine engineers in Greenwich. Though he undertook only a little formal art study, at the National Art Training School, South Kensington, in 1860, he spent much of his spare time in drawing caricatures. When Mark Lemon, editor of Punch, saw one of his sketches in 1867, he was engaged to work for the periodical, and four years later joined the staff.
He began by filling gaps and covering absences and, by way of the influence of the work of Charles Bennett, developed his own distinctively intricate style. Promoted to producing decorative initial letters to Punch’s ‘The Essence of Parliament’, he gradually expanded these images, usurping the importance of Shirley Brooks’ text and so providing a second political cartoon. In 1878, he was appointed ‘cartoon junior’, while, from the 1890s, he understudied Tenniel as political cartoonist, finally replacing him on his retirement in 1901. In parallel, he allowed himself a more purely surreal vein by producing a series of ‘Fancy Portraits’, such as Ruskin as Narcissus (18 December 1880).
Sambourne compensated for any lack of natural graphic fluency by developing a meticulous approach to his work founded on detailed research. He built up a library of 100,000 photographs, many of which he had taken himself. He posed his family and servants in elaborate set pieces with props and costumes, while, as a member of the Camera Club from 1893, he had access to a number of nude models. Contemporaries disapproved of this reliance on the camera. Harry Furniss complained that Sambourne was ‘a slave to the camera and a mere copyist’, to which Sambourne replied that ‘The camera is my pencil and these photos are my “notes” which I am always making’. Certainly, his use of the camera saved little in the way of time or labour. Subjects for drawings were chosen on a Wednesday at the Punch table, with the work to be delivered that Friday. Sambourne spent most of Thursday either consulting his archives or producing new cyanotypes, photographs which involved sunshine in their development. Adverse weather conditions or problems with props would place strain on Sambourne to meet his deadline. Whatever the doubts, regarding his methods, his results have been greatly admired. Tenniel once said of his work ‘although a little hard and mechanical, it is of absolutely inexhaustible ingenuity and firmness of touch’ and Low commented that he ‘evolved a style which for sheer purity of line and solid correctness of draughtsmanship has not been excelled among British artists’.
In addition to his work for Punch, Sambourne contributed to a few other magazines and illustrated books, including The Water Babies (1885) and Three Tales of Hans Andersen (published posthumously in 1910). He exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1885 and 1910, and his only solo show, at the Fine Art Society in 1893, was a sell-out success. However, by the time of his death – at home on 3 August 1910 – his precise images were being passed over in favour of the more apparently spontaneous drawings of Phil May. His wife, Mary Ann (née Herapath), and their two children, Mawdley (known as Roy), and Maud, all survived him.
His house, at 18 Stafford Terrace, Kensington, is now open to the public as the most complete record of Victorian domestic life.
Further reading: Simon Jervis and Leonée Ormond, Linley Sambourne House, London: The Victorian Society, 1980 R C Lehmann, rev Shirley Nicholson, ‘Sambourne (Edward) Linley (1844-1910)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 48, pages 792-793 Robin Simon, Public Artist, Private Passions: The World of Edward Linley Sambourne, London: British Art Journal/The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Libaries and Arts Service, 2001