State Library of South AustraliaState Library of South Australia

Spring cleaning in Noah's Ark

Catalogue record

Creator: Robinson, W. Heath (William Heath), 1872-1944

Place of Creation: London

Published by Athena Reproductions

Date of creation : 1974

Reproduction rights are owned by State Library of South Australia. This image may be printed or saved for personal research or study. Use for any other purpose requires permission from the State Library of South Australia. To request approval, complete the Permission to publish form.

Format : Poster, Pen and black ink and watercolour

William Heath Robinson (signed W. Heath Robinson, 1872 - 1944) was an English illustrator and cartoonist/comic artist. He illustrated children's books though he is most recognized for his drawings of absurd and unnecessarily complex 'machines'. Whilst he had a reputation amongst his contemporaries as 'The Gadget King' his drawings and watercolour paintings represented a wide variety of subjects (Beare, 1983).

His formal training as an artist began in a small North London school and continued at the Royal Academy Schools. Upon leaving the school he embarked upon a career as a landscape painter but economic necessity saw him follow his two older brothers, Thomas and Charles, into the more lucrative field of book illustration. He produced drawings for publications of fairy and fantasy stories including Perrault's complete fairy tales, Bunyan'sThe pilgrim's progress, plus several publications of Shakespeare's works and The poems of Edgar Allan Poe.

Insolvent publishers saw him turn to creating detailed humorous drawings for The Sketch and The Tatler, amongst other popular magazines, which in essence launched his career as a cartoonist while he continued to illustrate books. He also produced drawings for more ephemeral items such as advertisements, invitations and the covers of sheet music and music lessons.

Beare's 1983 biography of W. Heath Robinson contains a comprehensive bibliography of his published illustrations (p 109 - 150). Of Heath Robinson's legacy, Beare writes:

The immediate appeal and general popularity of Heath Robinson during his lifetime resulted mainly from his humorous work and in this field he was both brilliant and unique. He was an unusually prolific artist with a seemingly inexhaustible stock of good ideas...his clarity of line, his ability to adopt strikingly effective novel view points and his innate sense of the decorative effects latent in any design...(define) the artistic qualities which, together with his comic genius, have made W. Heath Robinson popular throughout this century (p 108).

In this watercolour created by W. Heath Robinson, Noah despairs, head in hands, while the Ark is cleaned and painted by Mrs Noah and the crew. The animals stand out of the way, virtually on top of one another, on the roof of the ark. According to the British Museum, this illustration was originally published in 'The Bystander', a weekly tabloid, April 22nd, 1925.


Further reading

Beare, Geoffrey C The illustrations of W. Heath Robinson : a commentary and bibliography, London, Werner Shaw, 1983

Charles & William Heath Robinson, edited by David Larkin, introduction by Leo John De Freitas, London, Pan Books, 1976

Robinson, W Heath. My line of life, Wakefield: EP Publishing, 1974

Robinson, W Heath Inventions [London] : Duckworth, [1973]


William Heath Robinson Trust

William Heath Robinson - Wikipedia entry

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