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Like many of his contemporaries serving in the bullpen of a daily newspaper, Frederick Richardson was required to be a jack of all trades. As a staff artist for the Chicago Daily News in the 1890s, Richardson might have been asked to provide an editorial cartoon one day, an illustration for a children’s story the next, and a full-page illustration for the features section the day after that.
Many of these artists survived in such an environment by learning to “hack” the work out, keeping it simple and rote. After all, it would probably end up in the dust bin the next day anyway. But Richardson proved to be a cut above the typical ink slinger at a daily newspaper. Over a 15-year stint, Richardson’s work blossomed, becoming more complex and assured. Instead of cutting corners in his illustrations and cartoons, he somehow managed to find a way to absorb the popular artistic movements of his time, such as Europe’s burgeoning Art Nouveau, and marry them to his own increasingly detailed style.
And the detail Richardson lavished on many of his newspaper illustrations was clearly beyond any reasonable expectation from publisher or subscriber. Newspapers of that time were not known for their printing quality: the high-volume presses and cheap, pulpy paper stock did no artists’ work any favors. But this didn’t deter Richardson from investing tremendous amounts of attention to his extravagant pen-and-ink drawings. The evidence shows that he was obviously out to please himself before all others, and his standards were indeed formidable.
Although Richardson eventually left the newspaper grind in 1903 and moved to New York City to begin a new phase in his career as an illustrator of children’s books, this collection—the first of its kind in well over a century—brings together the best of Richardson’s work published in the mid- to late 1890s for the Chicago Daily News. Reproduced from an especially rare 1899 collection that was printed with a level of care and refinement on par with his work, The Lost Art of Frederick Richardson also includes a short biography by well-known scholar Martin Gardner and an introduction by prolific fiction writer Ruth Berman. Modern readers, after seeing these drawings, will be left wondering what today’s newspapers might be like if they aspired to this level of enchantment and artistry.
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