W Graham Robertson (1866-1948)

The painter and illustrator W. Graham Robertson was born in London, and studied first at the South Kensington school, and then under Albert Moore. He became friends with Burne-Jones, and collected works by the Pre-Raphaelites. His wealthy background meant he did not have to earn his living as a painter, and he seems to have dabbled in various styles and media. His paintings include good Pre-Raphaelite style works, with some historical subjects and some that are closely sympathetic to the work of Ryland. He also worked as a portraitist, and later, turning from his early precise style towards impressionism, produced rather blotchy watercolour landscapes.

Robertson was greatly interested in the stage, and made portraits of many of the leading actresses of the day. Apart from painting theatre personalities, he designed costumes for 5 major London plays by the age of 30. These designs were much praised, as exemplified by the editor of the Magazine of Art:

'In all his work we found harmony of effect, reposeful simplicity, unforced beauty or arrangement and a sense of breadth which lent to the whole a distinction and elegance'.

As an illustrator, Robertson again worked in a variety of styles, at his best designing strong black line drawings in the best spirit of the Birmingham School. His humorous pen drawings seem to me much weaker, and in a different style all together, he made thick grey and white illustrations in wash. He also worked in other media, including posters, and occasional decorative work on furniture.

Illustrated page, 'A grave in London'

Overall then, a bit of a mix, sometimes excellent and sometimes somewhat of a disappointment. His best work, to my mind, is the earliest, most Pre-Raphaelite in style. His pictures are hard to find in the public galleries, but his illustrative work is not uncommon in the magazines of the 1890s, and there is a decorated lacquer cabinet by him, dating from well into the 20th Century, in the Carlisle Museum and Art Gallery.

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