Illustration Inspo — From the Beggarstaff Brothers to Ben Wiseman

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.

Beggarstagg Brothers, Hamlet 1894
Beggarstaff Brothers, Hamlet 1894
1896, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, The Glasgow Four
1896, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, The Glasgow Four

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.

Aubrey Beardsley, The Peacock Skirt, 1893
Aubrey Beardsley, The Peacock Skirt, 1893
Aubrey Beardsley, Salome, 1894
Aubrey Beardsley, Salome, 1894

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.

Beggarstaff Brothers, Girl on Sofa, 1895
Beggarstaff Brothers, Girl on Sofa, 1895
Henri Matisse, Blue Nude (paper cut out), 1952
Henri Matisse, Blue Nude (paper cut out), 1952

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.

Ludwig Hohlwein, Hermann Scherrer. Breechesmaker Sporting-Tailor, 1911
Ludwig Hohlwein, Hermann Scherrer. Breechesmaker Sporting-Tailor, 1911
Beggarstaff Brothers, 1894
Beggarstaff Brothers, 1894

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?

time_benwisemanactor2

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5 thoughts on “Illustration Inspo — From the Beggarstaff Brothers to Ben Wiseman”

  1. Ben was a student at Parsons in the Illustration Department. I had the pleasure of having him in a Graphic Design class. His ideas were always surprising and clever, and I’ve never forgotten him over the years. He’s wonderfully talented and a great conceptual thinker. I also had the fortune of finding a roll of Ludvig Hohlwein posters from the teens and twenties at an estate sale in New Jersey. We we able to live off of the money we made selling them at auction during a time when the freelance work was a little slim. We still own a few; Marco Polo Tea is my favorite and hangs on my living room wall. I often wonder about the owner of the house and why they had over 30 of his original posters rolled up in the basement.

    1. Yes, I read that Ben went to Parsons–he is also from my hometown and went to school with my brother. I love his style, truly inspiring. Maybe one day I’ll have the opportunity to work with him. Amazing about the Hohlwein posters. What a find!

  2. Good stuff. I don’t think that Illustrator is the main reason why this minimalistic/simplistic style is hip now which has been for quite a while now (I’m sure you can find other softwares that will give you the same result) but this style can reach a larger number of audience that don’t know much about art because of its simplicity I guess and it looks great on smaller devices

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