Turn-of-the-century illustrator known for absurd contraptions and quirky scenes


W. Heath Robinson (1872-1944) was a well-known British illustrator whose life and work straddled the Pre-Raphaelite movement and the golden age of early 20th-century Illustration. Although Robinson ranked with the likes of Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, and Aubrey Beardsley, his humorous, quirky, and gently satiric work is largely unknown outside the United Kingdom today. The Delaware Art Museum seeks to introduce this important turn-of-the-century illustrator to an American audience with the artist’s first retrospective exhibition: Wonder and Whimsy: The Illustrations of W. Heath Robinson, on view March 4 – May 21, 2017.

Robinson trained at the Royal Academy Schools in London and followed his two older brothers into the illustration profession. By the late 1890s he was illustrating books by authors such as Shakespeare and Hans Christian Andersen. In 1902, Heath Robinson wrote and illustrated his first children’s story, The Adventures of Uncle Lubin. The plot follows the eccentric title character as he attempts to rescue his nephew from the wicked bag bird. Robinson is also known for morale-boosting cartoons produced during both world wars. Throughout his career he also created humorous illustrations for magazines.

His well-known drawings of intricate contraptions that “solve” everyday problems earned him the nickname, the Gadget King, and the expression “Heath Robinson contraptions” is as common in his native Britain as Rube Goldberg’s is in the United States. Such contraptions and other elements of his style may have influenced the code-breakers in World War II and inspired the productions of Monty Python and Wallace and Gromit’s Nick Park.

“We are thrilled to reintroduce his work to an American audience,” explains Delaware Art Museum’s Chief Curator Margaretta Frederick. “This exhibition will explore the connections of Heath Robinson’s work to our Pre-Raphaelite and Illustration collections, as well as his influence on others working during the period.”

His career spanned significant developments in print technology, changes in art world aesthetics, and notable world events. The introduction of process engraving and advances in color reproduction greatly impacted the method of image preparation. Heath Robinson’s approach was ideally suited to the requirements of these new print processes.

This comprehensive exhibition of 68 watercolor illustrations, designs, drawings, and books showcases his style and ability to evoke the subtlest of emotions. His work harkens back to the innovations of the Pre-Raphaelites while acknowledging the Art Nouveau creations of Aubrey Beardsley and others. The exhibition will be arranged in sections, including “gift books,” a new concept in the design of deluxe editions; children’s book illustration; magazine work; and humorous images. A narrative audio guide will be available, along with an interactive reading nook for children and families.

“His illustrations mine dramatic expanses of negative space, heightened by stark contrasts of black and white, theatrical elements and extreme view points. Some of his works feature lighthearted and imaginative characters, while others show his interest in science and the machine. These visual elements pull the reader in and show a new perspective to storytelling,” says Frederick.

Works featured in this exhibition come from the collection of The William Heath Robinson Trust. The Trust is scheduled to open a London museum dedicated to the artist on October 15, 2016. For more information, visit

The Delaware Art Museum’s related programs include an exclusive Members Preview Party featuring Delaware Shakespeare Festival actors performing Shakespeare readings in the gallery, Mother’s Day Fairy Tea for Members, Studio workshops, Delaware Shakespeare Festival performances, special Glory of Stories featuring stories illustrated by Heath Robinson, and Sunday Studio family programs.

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Organizers and Sponsors

Wonder and Whimsy: The Illustrations of W. Heath Robinson features 65 illustrations, designs, and drawings created by Heath Robinson from the collection of the William Heath Robinson Trust (UK). This exhibition is made possible in Delaware by the Emily du Pont Memorial Exhibition Fund. Additional support was provided, in part, by a grant from the Delaware Division of the Arts, a state agency in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts. The Division promotes Delaware arts events on

About the Delaware Art Museum

Founded in 1912, the Delaware Art Museum is best known for its large collection of works by Wilmington native Howard Pyle and fellow American illustrators, a major collection of British Pre-Raphaelite art, urban landscapes by John Sloan and his circle, and a survey of American art from early 19th century through the present. Visitors can also enjoy the outdoor Copeland Sculpture Garden and a number of special exhibitions throughout the year.

The Delaware Art Museum is at 2301 Kentmere Parkway, Wilmington, DE 19806. Open Wednesday: 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., Thursday: 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., and Friday – Sunday: 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Monday and Tuesday: Closed. Admission fees are charged as follows: Adults (19-59) $12, Seniors (60+) $10, Students (with valid ID) $6, Youth (7-18) $6, and Children (6 and under) free. Admission fees are waived Thursdays 4:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. and Sundays 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. thanks to support from generous individuals. For more information, call 302-571-9590 or 866-232-3714 (toll free).

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