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New Special Exhibition features illustrations from the Reverend Charles Kingsley’s classic novel “The Water-Babies”.

For our Autumn 2017 Special Exhibition, we focus on illustrations created for the classic Victorian novel “The Water-Babies”.  Written by the Reverend Charles Kingsley for his son, this extraordinary fable – sub-titled “A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby” – first appeared as a monthly serial in Macmillan’s Magazine between 1862-3 before being published as an illustrated book in 1863.  William Heath Robinson provided the beautiful illustrations for the 1915 edition.

The story of “The Water-Babies” can be interpreted on different levels. It can be read simply as a Victorian fairy tale in which a poor grimy chimney-sweep boy meets a little “princess” and has adventures in a magical underwater world.  On a deeper level, however, it addresses the clash between Darwin’s Evolutionary theories and the teachings of the Christian church. It provides lessons for the young in philosophy, natural history and in the science of classification. It was also part of the campaign to improve working conditions for young chimney sweeps.

Geoffrey Beare, Curator of this new exhibition says: “The William Heath Robinson Trust collection includes 45 illustrations for “The Water-Babies” including two very fine water-colours. These will be exhibited together with examples of the best work by other illustrators inspired by Kingsley’s book.  These include the two illustrations by Noel Paton for the first edition of the book in 1863 and a number of Linley Sambourne’s original drawings and artist’s proofs for the first fully-illustrated edition of 1885. As well as Heath Robinson’s drawings for the 1915 edition, we will have line drawings and watercolours by Margaret Tarrant for a 1908 edition, pen drawings by Helen Jacobs for an abridged edition of 1935 and work by Harold Jones in 1961.”


Our thanks to Leighton House Museum and to Chris Beetles Gallery for the loan of a number of artworks for this new exhibition.

Visualising “The Water-Babies” runs from 9 September to 26 November 2017.


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