Every so often you run across an image so striking you want to wave it in front of everybody you know and natter on about how awesome it is. The internet, of course, enables you to do exactly that. So check this out:There is so much to love about this drawing, from the poses of the snakes and the contrast between their colors and the colors of the woman’s costume, to the facial expressions, the sense of space in the superb smoky background, and the overall masterful level of the draftsmanship, even the lettering. It’s certainly a classic from the time when illustrators were illustrators. People could really draw back then, and create lush final versions of images like this with sure hands in natural media. And of course, book and magazine publishers existed who were willing to pay for drawings of this quality and spend even more money on printing beautiful products to showcase them.
The artist here is Englishman Henry Justice Ford (1860-1941); his name didn’t ring a bell with me and I assumed I didn’t know anything about him, but it turns out I’m a big admirer of some of his work, particularly the illustrations for Andrew Lang’s “Fairy Books” and that wonderful map of Peter Pan’s Kensington Gardens in J.M. Barrie’s The Little White Bird. He was one of the most popular illustrators of his day, as well as a theatrical designer and a friend of P.G. Wodehouse and Arthur Conan Doyle. I don’t know exactly where the “Queen of Snakes” drawing fits into his career, but he did illustrate a deluxe edition of “The Arabian Nights”, and it certainly has that feel about it.
At the same time, there’s something amusingly modern about that title, “Queen of Snakes Give Me Back My Husband”. There’s not a lot of begging there, or in the pose, or in the lady’s expression. She wants her husband back from that floozy snake, queen or no queen, and she is not going to take no for an answer.