Friday, September 13, 2013

"Let Me Show You How to Improve Your Work!"

A.B. Frost was a famous 19th-20th c. illustrator and artist who, like many talented artists of his day, has become quite forgotten. He is best known for his collaboration on the Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit books by Joel Chandler Harris.

Frost was a student of the much more famous Thomas Eakins, who taught in Philadelphia for many years. Frost decided to illustrate an incident involving Eakins, described in a letter from another student, Horatio Shaw, as follows (the letter is to Shaw's wife, Susie):

I must tell you about Frost. You recollect I described him to you once. Well, when Eakins came around last night, he sat down and looked at Frost's work, then he began to point out where the figure was out of drawing, as a special favor I suppose for they seemed to be old friends, he took his brush and painted the figure over, made the body longer and put more action in the figure. Such a complete change made a smeary mess of it. That was just before a rest. After the rest when Eakins was gone, Frost sat down, shoved his hands into his pockets and sat and looked at his picture. Finally said "Well, that looks encouraging, don't it?" I haven't laughed so hard for a long time.

The illustration's narrative proceeds left to right, then up and down. Click on the images below so you can see them more clearly on your screen:

Don't you love that last panel? Crushed! Yup, been there, too!

I love gifted caricaturists, they are in a special breed all their own. There is so much life in this drawing. Can you not feel in your own body what the student is feeling? See the simpering needy gratitude of the student when the Great Man walks in. See that grandly aloof, nose-up superior satisfaction of the Great Man after he "fixes" the painting. Watch how the student's hair changes and his feet start to crumple and cave in as the panels progress... wow. That is simply genius. I'm going to post more of Frost's humorous work later on.

The information on Frost, the quote and illustration are taken from Reed, Henry: The A.B. Frost Book available here.

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