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John Coulthart

A Picture to Dream Over: The Isle of the Dead

When faced with posterity’s lottery, artists might hope they have one work at least which finds favour with future generations. In the case of Swiss painter Arnold Böcklin (1827–1901) this would be Die Toteninsel (The Isle of the Dead), not a single picture but a series of paintings produced from 1880 to 1886 all of which depict a similar scene. The enduring popularity of the pictures wouldn’t have surprised Böcklin, he painted the four additional versions after the original proved surprisingly popular.

What’s fascinating about the paintings is the spell they’ve cast over subsequent generations of artists, musicians, writers and filmmakers. The quality of mystery which Böcklin evoked is a specific attraction for those drawn to the eerie and the fantastic. In this post we’ll look at a few of the more notable derivations.

[The many Isles of the Dead]

Crafting Steampunk Illustrations

Collage is the technique I’ve been using for steampunk pieces and illustrations that I’ve been doing recently. When I used to use pencil, ink, and paint I was seldom attracted to collage despite appreciating what others could do with the technique. Photoshop changed all that, of course, making it easy to replicate and manipulate any available picture.

When it comes to creating faux-Victorian artwork I have a slight advantage in possessing a book collection which includes many titles from the Dover Pictorial Archive series. Also a number of similar archive books from Pepin Press, two huge volumes of engraved art (Images of Architecture and Images of Medicine) collected by collagist Jim Harter (also the compiler of many Dover editions), eleven volumes of Gustave Doré’s engraved illustrations, and even a few genuine 19th century books where the reproductions of wood engraving are always a lot more sharp and detailed than later copies.

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Series: Steampunk Week

The Fantastic and Apocalyptic Art of Bruce Pennington

One of the hazards of discussing book cover art is that the covers don’t always travel very far outside their country of publication. Consequently, cover artists who seem ubiquitous to one group of readers may be unknown to those elsewhere unless they chance to find an imported paperback.

The work of British artist Bruce Pennington was very familiar to UK readers of SF, fantasy and horror paperbacks during the 1970s and 1980s, especially on titles from New English Library. Despite being active since the 1960s his work is only now receiving its first public exhibition at the Atlantis Bookshop in Museum Street, London, in a small show which will run throughout August. The battered paperbacks shown here are ones from my own collection that were immediately to hand, so they’re not necessarily representative of the full range of his art.

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H.P. Lovecraft’s Favorite Artists

The Nightmare (second version, c. 1790) by Henry Fuseli.

“There’s something those fellows catch–beyond life–that they’re able to make us catch for a second. Doré had it. Sime has it. Angarola of Chicago has it. And Pickman had it as no man ever had it before or–I hope to heaven–ever will again.” (Pickman’s Model, 1926)

Despite a reputation for evasive description, H.P. Lovecraft’s visual imagination sustains many of his most celebrated stories; along with birthing his most famous creation, Cthulhu. He made small sketches now and then, including what’s probably the first ever picture of Cthulhu, and while writers and academics are common characters in his work he gave us two notable artist figures: ghoul-portraitist Richard Upton Pickman, and Henry Anthony Wilcox, the “precocious youth of known genius but great eccentricity” whose curious bas-relief leads to Professor Angell’s revelations in The Call of Cthulhu.

The monologue of Pickman’s Model features some discussion of the power and suggestiveness of art, showing a fascination for art’s ability to give us a glimpse of the visually uncanny. Lovecraft spent time seeking this quality in visual art as well as in the stories of earlier writers. The following list gives us an idea of the kind of art which fueled his imagination.

So who did Howard like?

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