By Morgan Taylor
It seems that the flat, figurative illustrations of the Beggarstaff Brothers are back in vogue. Initially, when British painters William Nicholson and James Pryde began working together in 1894 under the pseudonym “Beggarstaff Brothers” (actually brothers-in-law), they were working against the decoration of Art Nouveau, which by that time had made it’s way from France to Glasgow, where many British artists, such as the “Glasgow Four” were emulating the style.
One of the most famous illustrators of all time, Aubrey Beardsey, represents the transition between the style of the Beggarstaffs and Art Nouveau, with his figuration, decorative typography and flourishes.
According to Colin Campbell, the Beggarstaff Brothers’ process of making the “Hamlet” poster was initially collage cut from paper, then stencil on brown wrapping paper with some hand drawn details. The end result was life size. The Beggarstaff Brothers also employed the commonly-used techniques of woodcut and lithography in their designs.
The idea of the Beggarstaffs’ style was simplification over decoration, which produced striking images which are at once naive and sophisticated. The “brothers” only worked together for a few years but the style was picked up by German artists, including Ludwig Hohlwein.
Today, the Beggarstaff Brothers Illustrative style is still alive in the work of Ben Wiseman, whose clients include Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, etc. I’m curious as to why this style has come back in style — could it be that Adobe Illustrator, which is built on simplified graphic shapes and forms, has powered this kind of graphic art?