Barry Windsor-Smith · Connections · Illustration Art · Look Here

Connections: Gustave Doré and Barry Windsor-Smith



In The Studio (Dragon’s Dream, 1979), on pages 103 and 104, Barry Windsor-Smith provides a brief account of the genesis of Whithering:

“In the spring of 1975 I was working on a pen and ink drawing of trees, just trees. It was inspired, in part, by a wonderful painting of old Hampstead Heath by John Constable. At that time I didn’t think my audience was ready for — or let’s say interested in — a new work by me that was ‘just trees.’ Constable himself had a witticism about painting some of his pictures with ‘eye salve.’ What he meant was that he would make a picture as commercial as possible if he needed to sell it. As I wanted the fantasy market to see my tree drawing, I took a tip from Constable and applied a little ‘fantastic eye balm’: right in the middle of the picture I drew a shrouded figure of Death — a skull-headed man — and off in the distance a dark, foreboding mansion. This made the trees seemingly incidental. I called it Whithering (p. 110)… a deliberate non sequitur.” […]

“One night I got a frenzied call from an associate in London. He’d just shown a reproduction of the picture to a much respected fellow artist whom I’d never met, and whom my associate had only just met. Over the crackling transatlantic line I heard him say, ‘Hey! Guess what!… I just showed Whithering to so-and-so and guess what he said, — ‘Ahh, Constable; those trees. Barry just stuck that dead bloke in there so he could get away with drawing trees, didn’t he’?… He knew! There were a few cackles of laughter and then he hung up; that was the end of the call. I was suffering from insomnia at the time, I recall I slept that night and glowed the next day.”

Does Windsor-Smith’s reminiscence rule out the influence of Doré’s composition on Whithering? I don’t think so, but if you check out the comments section of this post, you’ll find a reader who disagrees with me.


Three paintings of “Hampstead Heath” by John Constable:

2 thoughts on “Connections: Gustave Doré and Barry Windsor-Smith

  1. I think it’s coincidence. As I understand it Barry added the figure because he felt his fans wouldn’t just buy a print of trees which suggests he probably wasn’t influenced by Dore picture per se.


  2. Yeah, I thought about that before I posted. I’ve been a BWS fan for a long time, and have purchased and read most of the stuff that has been published about his art. In fact, it just so happens that I own two copies of the book in which Barry talks about the genesis of Whithering — which is often misspelled “Withering,” mainly, I think, because it was mislabelled as such on page 41 of Epic Illustrated #7 (August 1981). So, in the interests of fairness, or complete disclosure, or some such, I’ve just typed out Barry’s account from The Studio and have added it to the end of the above post.

    In case anyone is wondering — HA! — my point of view on matters such as this is encapsulated in the following line (paraphrased) from an English professor (who shall remain nameless) from my alma mater, the grand old U of S: “The author’s comments about the work have more than usual interest but no more than usual authority.” I’m sure he attributed the sentiment to some famous commentator or other, but I’ll be damned if I can remember whom…


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