_From "Paris and Some Parisians"_]
The "Lapin Agile," a strange little _cafe_ in that "other Montmartre"
which the tourist knoweth not, yielded abundance of material to Frank Reynolds' pencil. Needless to say, the curious may search all Paris and find no such sign as that of "The Sprightly Rabbit," but it is not impossible that some may recognise, under his disguise, "Felix," the ruffianly but accomplished host, who was the model for the sketch upon page 43, one of the happiest examples in the present volume of the artist's skill in portraiture, as well as of his rare technique in pen-and-ink. Equally happy is the sketch which depicts "'Chacun' with his 'Chacune'" at the Moulin de la Galette (page 13), in which the pose of the figures and the expression upon their faces exhibit, if one may put it so, the very perfection of naturalness. For a study of expression, again, it would be difficult, or indeed impossible, to better the further of the two figures in the drawing of "Le 'Igh Kick," made one night at the Moulin Rouge. As to pose, could there be anything more exactly right than the attitude of the gentleman "with bright-blue goggle eyes, and a dress-shirt front in accordion pleats," who, on the occasion when his portrait was made, had been to the races and backed a winner, and was delivering "a long and extremely incoherent speech."
[Illustration: FELIX OF THE "LAPIN AGILE".
_From "Paris and Some Parisians"]
[Illustration: PICTURES OF PARIS AND SOME PARISIANS]
FRANK REYNOLDS. V.
Looking through these inimitable sketches of Paris and Parisians, one indulges a fond hope that some day Frank Reynolds will produce a companion set of drawings illustrative of London life. It is answered, perhaps, that Paris affords a unique opportunity such as the artist would hardly find at home; but the supposition is due, of course, only to the familiarity of our immediate surroundings and the difficulty which invariably arises, in consequence, of focussing them to their true proportions. Needless to say, Frank Reynolds has already worked the rich vein of Cockney life to a considerable extent, but his essays in this direction only increase the desire to see an exhaustive pictorial commentary from his pencil and pen upon the men and manners of our own city. Such quaint humour as is contained in his study of "Sunday Clothes at Bethnal Green"
(page 17), suggests what possibilities the subject presents.
Incidentally, it may be remarked, _apropos_ of this drawing, that the London coster (whom he knows and loves) has provided some of his most admirable studies from life. To that class belongs the sympathetic study which faces page 1 in the present volume. The broad humours of Whitechapel could scarcely fail to appeal irresistibly to an artist of Reynolds' peculiar temperament, and few men have depicted them with such relish or--thanks to his rare gift of restraint--with such fidelity and truth.
To a certain extent, Frank Reynolds has already recorded contemporary manners in England, and especially in London, in his well-known series of "Social Pests," though it would perhaps be more correct to say that he has pilloried therein the more extravagant of our social freaks. Probably the delighted recognition with which these ruthless analyses of character were hailed was due to the satisfaction which attends the exhibition of a proper object of satire meeting with its just deserts.
[Illustration: THE WARRENER.
_Exhibited at the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours,_ 1907.]
No ridicule could be more serene, nor yet more biting, than that with which the artist touches off the desperate efforts to attract attention of the rowdy group of callow youths whom he names, with a flash of inspiration, "The Dare-Devils" (page 10). Of "The Suburbanite," to the writer's mind perhaps the most subtly accurate character-study of all, the artist speaks in terms of apology.
It is hardly fair, he contends, to include in a gallery of pests the bulwark of the nation!
A particular aspect of London life which provides a rich fund of material for humorous treatment was dealt with by Frank Reynolds in his series of drawings entitled "The 'Halls' from the Stalls."
As every frequenter of the variety theatre is aware, the programme at such places of entertainment is arranged on certain well-defined lines. The music-hall performer may be divided into certain very distinct classes, each with its orthodox methods and mannerisms; and it was on the little peculiarities of these different branches of the profession that the artist seized with characteristic glee.
How little his efforts, unfortunately, were taken in the spirit in which they were meant, may be gleaned from the annoyance expressed by one gentleman who considered himself, quite erroneously, to have been singled out for individual ridicule. A certain drawing in the series depicts "The Equilibrist"--an individual with an anxious eye, who is poised upon a slack wire above the head of an admiring assistant, balancing sundry cigar-boxes and wine-glasses on one toe, while supporting on his head a lighted lamp, and discoursing sweet music from a mandoline. The publication of this skit drew from a wrathful professional an indignant letter, in which he declared that insomuch as he was the one and only exponent of the equilibristic art who could balance a lighted lamp upon his head, the picture which illustrated this piece of "business" _must_ be intended as a portrait of himself, though he considered it very badly done, and a libellous production. From one point of view, it was surprising that the impression of the "Lion Comique," as seen by Frank Reynolds, elicited no similar response from the gentlemen of the boards, for indisputably the picture was a portrait, and a perfect one, of each individually and of all combined. On second thoughts, however, and upon consideration of the drawing in question (which many readers will remember), it is, perhaps, not so very surprising that no claim to identity with it was forthcoming!
Other drawings in the same series, depicting other examples of the strange freaks of humanity by whom the British public delights to be entertained, afford good examples of the innate humour of Frank Reynolds' art. There is often little that is actually comic in the situations depicted, yet each is instinct with humour. It is the triumph of Reynolds' comic art that he can snare, on the wing as it were, humour that is too elusive and nimble for one of slower perception and heavier hand.
[Illustration: VIVE L'ARMeE _From "Paris and Some Parisians"_]
"Art and the Man" was a series of drawings in the vein of farce rather than of comedy. The intention was to depict various types of artists rather as fancy might paint them than as they really are. The "Marine Artist," for example, with his canvas slung from davits and the entire furniture of his studio of extremely nautical design, was a purely fanciful conception. The "Pot-Boiler," spending his days in painting one solitary subject over and over again _ad infinitum_, comes nearer to life, though his portrait again is an exaggerated fancy rather than a study from life. One feels, nevertheless, that if there be indeed such an individual as the pot-boiler in existence, this, and no other, must be his outward guise.
The drawings entitled "Dinners with Shakespeare," to which allusion has already been made, gave scope for a very varied range of character studies. Meal-time is a happy moment at which to catch human nature unawares, and the artist made the most of his opportunities. They add to the debt which the historians of contemporary manners will owe to Reynolds in the future, for as a sidelight on social habits of the present day these pictures of the dinner-table will be instructive. The very triteness of their theme gives them their interest.
[Illustration: "GAZED ON HAROLD"
_From "Paris and Some Parisians"_]
[Illustration: FROM A PARIS SKETCH-BOOK]
Of late years Reynolds' pen-and-ink drawings have been a familiar feature of the pages of _Punch_. His gentle satires therein have been at the expense of all classes of the community. But his most successful and best remembered jokes have perhaps been those which depicted the unconscious humours of Cockney low life. His illustration of "Precedence at Battersea," in which one small gutter-snipe struggles with another for a cricket bat, indignantly declaring that "The Treasurer goes in before the bloomin' Seketery," is by way of becoming a classic. Equally clever is the study of a small boy, (reproduced on page 27) whose "pomptiousness" on attaining the dignity of knickers forms the subject of admiring comment from his mother to a friendly curate: the mother herself being a wonderful study of low life.
In "Going It" (page 59) the artist harks back to the theme of "freak-study," if such a term is permissible, the expressions on the faces of the two figures exhibiting well his acute powers of observation.
As an illustrator of stories of a certain type, Frank Reynolds is without an equal. On a tale of mere incident his talent is wasted: but into the spirit of a writer who takes human nature for his text, the artist enters with the keenest sympathy. One is tempted to think that the author who is so fortunate as to have Frank Reynolds for a collaborator, must on occasion be startled at the clear vision with which the artist materialises the private conceptions of his mind. It would hardly be possible to find a more sympathetic series of illustrations than those which Frank Reynolds drew for Keble Howard's idyll of Suburbia, entitled "The Smiths of Surbiton."
The author constructed out of the petty doings and humdrum habits of suburban life a charming little story of simple people, and with equal cleverness the artist built up, out of these slight materials, a series of exquisitely natural pictures, which revealed the almost incredible fact that semi-detached villadom is not all dulness.
Illustrators of Charles Dickens are legion, but when one thinks of the opportunities for character-study, without that exaggeration into which previous illustrators have been too prone to indulge, which the works of the great novelist afford, one is inclined to think that until we see that wonderful gallery of fanciful personalities which began with Mr. Pickwick and his companions portrayed by the pencil of Frank Reynolds, we shall have to wait still for the perfect edition of Dickens. One niche in that gallery has already been filled, and a study of the water-colour drawing of "Tony Weller at the Belle Sauvage," which is reproduced in the present volume, only increases our desire, like the immortal Oliver, to ask for more.
[Illustration: "THE DES(S)ERTS OF BOHEMIA".
_From "Dinners with Shakespeare"_]
Frank Reynolds as a colourist is less known to the general public than Frank Reynolds the black-and-white artist. It is only of recent years, indeed, that he has turned his attention to painting. But his work, as seen at the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours (of which body he was elected a member in 1903) and elsewhere, proves that his skill with the brush is no less than with pen or pencil. The present volume includes, besides the drawing of Tony Weller just referred to, his picture of "The Warrener," another fine character-study, exhibited at the Royal Institute in 1907.
"The Introduction," an example of a "time sketch" done at the London Sketch Club, illustrates the quick readiness with which the artist nimbly catches the spirit of his subject, and the subtle touch which invests his drawing with the evasive quality of atmosphere.
Another Sketch Club study is that of the curate at the play, which bears the title "Frivolity." As a study in expression it is amazingly clever: and it must be a painful and melancholy respect for the cloth which can suppress the smile which it summons. Even an Archbishop will scarce forbear to snigger!
It is not uncommon to hear modern black-and-white art in this country decried by some persons--mostly of that shallow critical class which can praise nothing in the present, and has encomiums only for that which is past. But while English art can point to such work in black-and-white as Frank Reynolds (to say nothing of others, with whom this volume is not concerned) produces, he must have dull senses who deplores the present and must hark back to the days, let us say, of Charles Keene to find satisfaction for his artistic cravings.
[Illustration: GOING IT!
SHE: After this, what do you say to a jaunt on one of the new tubes?]
If it be a merit to add to the gaiety of nations, then Frank Reynolds, on that count alone, deserves of his fellow men more than a passing approbation. He is something more than a mere jester, however: his humour but flavours, as it were, a serious study of human nature.
Ignoring, for a moment, the skill and charm of his technique, one feels it to be an accident only that his vehicle of expression is pictorial and not literary. He occupies amongst artists the place which the novelist holds amongst men of letters. When to the recognition of this distinction is added a consideration of his artistic ability, _per se_, his title to the appreciation of men of taste and sensibility must be conceded.
Frank Reynolds is fortunately a young man. Long may we continue to suffer the good-natured pricks with which his gentle shafts of satire, piercing the cracks in our self-complacent armour, stimulate us; long may we continue, secure in our own self-esteem, rapturously to gloat over the spectacle of our dear friends and neighbours held up, by his whimsical humour, to keen but harmless ridicule.