William Heath Robinson cartoon collection saved for the nation

    Deceiving the enemy as to the state of the tide, William Heath Robinson

    A collection of humorous cartoons by William Heath Robinson has been saved for the nation and is due to go on public display in Greater London from April 2016.

    Gentler Rugby, William Heath Robinson
    Gentler Rugby, William Heath Robinson

    Thanks to grants from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) and the Art Fund totalling £300,000, the William Heath Robinson Trust (WHRT) has been able to acquire 410 drawings and paintings that span the full range of William Heath Robinson’s work. With a heavy emphasis on his humorous works, the collection includes many of his most well-known First and Second World War cartoons.

    Mine and Counter-mine, William Heath Robinson
    Mine and Counter-mine, William Heath Robinson

    William Heath Robinson (1872-1944) was one of the leading illustrators of his day. Well-known for his drawings of complicated contraptions. During both the World Wars, his ironic and bizarre depictions of both sides in the conflicts and gentle satire of public figures proved extremely popular.

    Numerous artists ranging from Wallace and Gromit creator Nick Park to Olympic Cauldron designer Thomas Heatherwick have cited Robinson as an influence on their own work.

    The collection was put up for sale following the death of its previous owner Simon Heneage in 2011 and was at risk of being offered more widely and potentially broken up. Following Heath Robinson’s death, his collection was split in two and this larger part was stored in the National Magazine Company warehouse until the 1970’s before being bought by family friend, Simon Heneage, publisher and founder of the Cartoon Museum. Although many pieces were sold or donated by Heneage over the years, he retained the best and most interesting examples for display in his private gallery.

    This was the only significant Heath Robinson collection remaining in private hands and this acquisition means it will now be available for the public to view for the first time. The works are being reunited with the WHRT’s existing collection (the other part of the artist’s own collection) and displayed at the new Heath Robinson Museum at West House, Pinner, Greater London when it opens in April 2016.

    The pieces being acquired were originally part of Heath Robinson’s own collection and include examples from his series The Saintly Hun which subverted the usual depiction of the German character during the First World War; ‘Deceiving the invader as to the state of the tide’, part of a series looking at possible ways to resist a German invasion; an almost complete set of drawings made for How to build a new World, a book published in 1941 which reflected the hopes and aspirations of Britain in the second year of the war.

    The collection also includes rare early sketches, providing an insight into the illustrator’s way of working and generating ideas as well as some advertising commissions, a major source of income after the First World War.

    Carole Souter, Chief Executive of NHMF, said: “These fantastically wry cartoons represent British humor at its best. With the new museum opening in 2016 and the country marking the centenary of the First World War, there’s a renewed interest in Heath Robinson’s work and we felt that it was important to keep this collection together for the nation to rediscover and enjoy.”


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