Edward Linley Sambourne was a graphic artist that lived in Victorian London at 18 Stafford Terrace, a house situated in London’s South Kensington in close proximity to Lord Leighton’s studio and home. Sambourne, for most of his life, illustrated for the weekly magazine Punch, which was highly influential in the 19th century, commenting satirically on society, politics and cultural life of the time. Deadlines were tight and constant, with weekly Punch meetings on Wednesday deciding on the coming week’s content. Beginning in the 1880s, Sambourne worked from photographs to aid in producing his weekly cartoon for the magazine. Sambourne would usually produce two cartoons every week for which he took exact photographs, sometimes clothed, sometimes nude, or in in-between stages to study the body of the model and its position. This would take place every Thursday after the weekly Punch meeting. Everyone at 18 Stafford Terrace would be part of the spectacle, except his wife Marion who sometimes chose to be away in Margate, especially on weekends, while her husband was working hard to complete his drawings. She wrote in her diary “Lin at those everlasting photos” or “Endless, endless, endless photography!” Quite understandably she must have felt the constant removal of furniture from her house into the backyard an annoyance as well as the commotion caused by all the household staff being convinced by Linley Sambourne to help organise, arrange costumes from a costume hire, and more often than not assist or pose for his photographs. Sambourne repeatedly photographed himself, for which he instructed members of the household to release the shutter for him. Postle writes that Sambourne did not only lead a busy and varied life but took time to organise and compartmentalise his daily activities very well. Sambourne’s diaries are filled with notes on his work and life and details on models, revealing that Sambourne was “a man wedded to routine” – at the same time he strikes us as very humorous, lighthearted and enjoying his creative profession to the utmost.
Born in 1844, Edward Linley Sambourne had little formal training in art. His father’s sister Jane Barr, who was a talented amateur watercolourist, had introduced him to painting early on and when Sambourne was 16 years of age, he attended a few months of classes at the South Kensington School of Art and later some evening classes at Clipstone Street Academy, where students would comment on each others work, however, without a teacher. Sambourne was destined by his father to become an engineer, apprenticed to John Penn and Son, manufacturers of marine steam engines operating in Greenwhich, Blackheath and Deptford. During his time there, Sambourne was promoted to the drawing office when Penn discovered his talent, and henceforth dreamed of devoting himself fully to drawing and a career in art. In 1866 his father passed away – and in 1867, fate had it that fellow employee Alfred German Reed showed Sambourne’s drawings to his father Thomas German Reed, a “well known musical entrepreneur,” who put the drawings to the attention of Mark Lemon, founding editor of Punch. Without further ado, Sambourne’s very first drawing, which was an elaborately decorated letter ‘T’ heading a short article, was consequently published in Punch the very same year on 27 April 1867.
Visiting 18 Stafford Terrace today, which looks mostly the same as it did when Sambourne lived there – even with his upstairs bath tub where he used to develop his own photographs – lets us dive into the world of an enthusiastic artist at heart. Objects or drawings we can find at 18 Stafford Terrace might make us smile, some are very curious. Reseaching Sambourne’s work, lead The Protagonist Magazine to photograph in Sambourne’s house, with models that would pose nude, clothed and in different positions that could easily serve as visual aids for drawings. The many females that Sambourne photographed in the nude are here contrasted with the contemporary male nudes, coming together beautifully and perhaps pinpointing at the unfiltered qualities that Sambourne’s photographs possess. We have to remember that these would have hardly been seen by anyone apart from himself during his lifetime – they were a means to an end. All the more exciting it was to visit Sambourne’s archive, which today is split between 18 Stafford Terrace and Leighton House Museum, just to find the same boxes with hand labelled dividers in which Sambourne filed his images over a century ago; a piece of tangible history come to life again. Indeed, his professional creative output combined with the content of his diaries that he kept, make ‘Lin’ appear to us as a vivid character, his personality speaking to us through both his photographs and illustrations – and making him ever so relatable and likable.
Read the full feature on Edward Linley Sambourne, including accounts of his relation with the Royal Academy, the importance of Punch as a cultural container and an assessment of his nude studies in The Protagonist Magazine issue 3, available from https://boutiquemags.com/collections/boutique-men/products/the-protagonist
Visit 18 Stafford Terrace - for more information click here.
Special thanks to The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and to Shirley Nicholson for her expertise on Sambourne’s work and life and patience in sifting through the vast archive as well as Ana García and Sam Butler for their organisation and support.