Wednesday, 13 November 2013

William Lee Hankey's deserted village


In 1909 a new edition of Oliver Goldsmith's poem The Deserted Village was published with illustrations by the British artist, William Lee Hankey, using the new four-colour offset process to reproduce Lee Hankey's watercolours. By that time Lee Hankey had been experimenting with colour printing for about five years, using a basic combination of etching and aquatint to produce a wide variety of images that were in many ways new to British graphic art. Yet, it was the way that he seems to have worked alongside another artist who was using a quite different medium that I find just as fascinating.

Unlike Lee Hankey, Elizabeth Christie Austen Brown is no newcomer to Modern Printmakers. The pair were both members of the art colony that centred on the town of Etaples in the Pas-de-Calais, with Lee Hankey working in his studio in the town, and Lizzie Brown (if I am not mistaken) at the village you see in these two etchings by Lee Hankey, The full moon and Marie of the fields. The Austen Browns had probably lived at Camiers, a few miles from Etaples, for three or four years before Lee Hankey began to make prints. In the image at the top, you see the chateau beside the Etang du Roy, one of the a series of large ponds to the south of the village; behind Marie I think what you can see is the main street from the ridge, roughly to the north.

The area was small but astonishingly varied, with sand dunes along the coast and sheep pastures on the ridge, and must have seen at the time like a small world unto itself - certainly one that offered more than enough scope to double as a deserted village in C18th England. Although Lee Hankey's work for The Deserted Village has been praised elsewhere on the web, you will see straightaway how far popular illustration led him into conventional ways. Basically, the man in the illustration, above, looks liked he has just been beamed up by Scottie, and the scale of the figure and the arrangement of the houses are far less dramatic than the image of Marie with her rosary out in the fields.

In fact, it was Lee Hankey's wife, Mabel, who I think had developed a nice line in C18th pastiche some years before her husband, so it's interesting to see him working so intently in a village his friend, Lizzie Brown, had virtually made her own. You find exactly the same locations in his work, sometimes from the same angle, and certainly the same activities like haymaking, but seen in completely different ways. Above, we have Lee Hankey brimming with masculine vigour, below, Brown, picking out Lee Hankey's women you can see gathering the hay, but showing one carrying it away beneath the most tenuous of moons in By the lake.

It shows exactly why, I think, etching suited Lee Hankey and colour woodcut was the right medium for Brown. Lee Hankey's early colour etchings are certainly atmospheric and often bravura, and while his Harvest Moon is imaginative and powerful, I think Oliver Goldsmith would have also recognised a fellow poet in Lizzie Brown. She started with a basic grey and brought her colour up in stages, true to the essential monochrome nature of great graphic art, but using colour with a sure and selective touch. While Lee Hankey produced editions with a smaller (and cheaper) number in black and white, and then adding colour by means of a muslin wash, with Brown colour is always intrinsic. Both artists often began with monochrome and experimented with colour thereafter, but the end results are quite different. What the Irish protestant, Goldsmith, would have made of the Catholic imagery in Lee Hankey, is another matter altogether, but it does make me wonder whether his own deserted village was a deserted village of the Faith.


  1. hi charles -- I love lee hankey and he's so little known. meanwhile -- is this you?:

  2. Hi Lily. Great to hear from you. I'm afraid haji baba of Isfahan is an imposter.

  3. How foolish of me! I should have known!