Public Artist, Private Passions -The World of Edward Linley Sambourne
Although now largely neglected, Edward Linley Sambourne (1844-1910) was one of the most important cartoonists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Through Punch Sambourne commented upon domestic and international issues of the day and his place within an elite social circle positioned him near the very heart of London's artistic life. However, from around 1883 onwards, Sambourne pursued what amounted to almost a parallel career, as a practical interest in photography became an abiding passion, which eclipsed his drawing.
Growing up Sambourne developed a great interest in sketching and drawing and, seeking to put these skills to good use his father obtained for him an apprenticeship in engineering Sambourne enlivened this reliable, if somewhat dull position by producing cartoons and sketches for his own and friends' amusement. These 'trifles' must have possessed some quality as when a selection was shown to the then editor of Punch Mark Lemon in 1867, Sambourne was invited to make & Contributions as a freelancer Sambourne's sketches appeared increasingly frequently in the main section of the magazine until in 1871 the formal offer was made of a paid position. In 1874 Sambourne made an advantageous marriage to Marion Heraparni. Her endowment from her father represented a sufficient financial base for Sambourne not to have to worry too much about the rewards of cartooning; his new career was set.
Punch of the 1860s was England's leading satirical journal and many of Sambourne's colleagues as he took on his post of 'cartoon junior' were well known figures, such as Punch's 'first cartoonist', John Tenniel. -
In such company Sambourne's lack of formal training became increasingly a problem for him. Punch deadlines were onerous. The contents of the magazine were decided at a weekly dinner held each Wednesday evening The following morning the cartoonists were expected to develop their allotted theme, rough out ideas and draw up the finished cartoon to the required standard for submission to the engravers on Friday evening.
Sambourne found the rendering of human form to a standard comparable with that of his contemporaries extremely difficult and if he was to progress in his new career, he had to improve his technique.
Initially he began to use images taken from magazines as source material for the cartoons and a development of the approach found Sambourne purchasing photographs from the many retailers setting up in London. However, finding an image matching precisely the form envisaged for the final cartoon was a matter of luck.
In 1882 Sambourne made his breakthrough when he borrowed camera equipment from a friend. Members of his family and the household staff, posed for him. Subsequently he purchased his own camera and equipment. From the outset of his photographic work, Sambourne favoured the cyanotype, a quick and efficient process using salt-impregnated paper exposed to natural light.
The impact upon the cartoon drawings, which at this stage remained the ultimate aim of the exercise, was tremendous. Sambourne, by no means a poor artist, gained in confidence and his work began to match the best of his contemporaries, often surpassing them. He enjoyed his greatest success during this period, experiencing a rapid rise to the position of Punch's chief cartoonist and culminating in an exhibition of his work at the Fine Art Society in 1893.
Success at Punch increased the social aspect of Sambourne's life with regular invitations to dine with artistic luminaries such as Oscar Wilde, Henry Irving, Frederic Lord Leighton, etc. Sambourne threw himself into improving his photography and experimented with naturalistic images, even going so far as to take an adapted camera into the streets around his Kensington home to capture news of passers-by who were unaware that they were being photographed.
At the time of his death, Sambourne had amassed a collection of nearly 50,000 cyanotypes, giving some indication of the sheer volume of work and energy he devoted to photography. The achievement of his life's work is only now being recognised.
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