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Thackeray Gets Grotesque

October 27, 2014 | by

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When William Makepeace Thackeray died, near the end of 1863, he left behind a formidable library in a mansion he’d only recently designed, erected, and occupied. A few months later, his home was dismantled and his books were put to auction. On the flyleaves and margins, their new owners discovered a wealth of Thackeray’s sketches, some in pencil and others in pen and ink.

Thackeray’s talents as an artist were no secret—he’d contributed illustrations to many of his own novels, including Vanity Fair—but few were aware of the extent of his doodling habit. More than ten years later, in 1875, the art collector Joseph Grego published Thackerayana, an assemblage of more than six hundred of Thackeray’s drawings with extracts of the books in which he’d drawn them. (Grego, perhaps fearing the consequences of his blatant copyright infringement, presented the collection anonymously.)

What surprises most about the sketches in Thackerayana is their range—Thackeray was an adept caricaturist, but these drawings find him equally at home in more high-flown styles. As his source material moved him, he could do landscapes and portraiture, the irreverent and the solemn, the macabre, the surreal, the juvenile. It’s these last three qualities, in particular, that caught my eye; with Halloween around the corner, it seems as good a time as any to present a portfolio of Thackeray at his most imaginatively unhinged. He had a thing for combat, for instance, and for men with hideously bulbous noses. Here, then, are a series of Thackerayana’s more unsettling entries.

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5 COMMENTS

2 Comments

  1. Walter Rojas | October 28, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    Powerfull images.

  2. Mona Moon | November 2, 2014 at 2:38 am

    i am so luck and thank you to had found these amazing drawings!! So powerful images!

3 Pingbacks

  1. […] I’m happy we share a home planet. I’m also happy I came across this collection of his drawings, which merit both acclaim and a “WTF?” or two. Happy Halloween, […]

  2. […] journey into the macabre (via Thackeray) was so lousy with skulls and black cats and seasonal pageantry that I thought, Hell, let’s do it […]

  3. […] Plus, Sadie Stein looks at the outmoded fun on display in Cupid’s Cyclopedia; what scares the staff of The Paris Review? (Taylor Swift, among other things); and Thackeray’s doodles reveal his macabre side. […]

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