Crusoe Rediscovered: Thomas Stothard and his Contemporaries, 1781-1830.


    Thomas Stothard (1755-1834) was the first English artist to realize the visual potential of Robinson Crusoe. He designed seven drawings for a reprint series called The Novelist's Magazine, published by James Harrison in 1781. The designs were engraved by several hands, including James Heath (1757-1834). For a new edition published by John Stockdale in 1790, Stothard designed fourteen copper plates which were engraved and etched by Thomas Medland (d. 1833). He added another plate (copied from the French edition by Panckoucke of 1800) in Stockdale's edition of 1804, and then five more plates in Stockdale's edition of 1820. For the 1820 edition, all of the plates were re-engraved by Charles Heath (1785-1848). Stothard's first seven illustrations emphasize the humor and pathos of Crusoe's predicament as a castaway, setting them apart from the crude stick figures of earlier English illustrations. They are still, however, only isolated scenes of poignant moments in the story, four from the first volume and three from the second. In the fourteen designs for the 1790 edition, Stothard achieved what David Blewett has called "a visual summary of the main lines of the story," thus creating "an instance of eighteenth-century narrative painting." Stothard depicts Crusoe not as a sinful or isolated figure, but as a social man who leaves his family with regret and who rejoices in his companionship with Friday and, later, with the Spanish lieutenant. Rather than fear, he emphasizes contentment, harmony, and the nobility of man, including that of the "noble savage," Friday. His designs set an idealistic and romantic standard that subsequent artists aspired to equal.   Page 2

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