Monday, August 12, 2013

Really Old Old-School Artist:
William Thomas Horton

I know it's been a while since I've done one of my Really Old Old-School Artists posts. Partly, I've been really waiting to find some interesting images from someone a little out of the mainstream of widely known artists (like Crane, Rackham, Batten, etc.), and partly I've been hoarding some lesser-known public domain images for a possible new project.

Today's artist, William Thomas Horton, is a bit of a mystery. There's not much out there in the way of biographical information for him; he doesn't even have a Wikipedia listing. So after digging around the interwebs, and trudging through a piss-poor translation of a Japanese site dedicated to his work, here are my key take-aways...

1) Horton was a friend and contemporary of Aubrey Beardsley, having contributed to the The Savoy, a magazine to which Beardsley regularly contributed. Both men were also friends with writer William Butler Yeats.

2) There is no mistaking the influence the men had on each other's style. They both found their way to illustration through architecture/drafting jobs; Beardsley worked for an architectural firm and was convinced by artist Edward Burne-Jones to leave, while Horton had been working on establishing his own drafting firm. The strong architectural influence is obvious in both men's work; other pre-Art-Nouveau artists where much more fluid and less grotesque (a word commonly attributed to Beardsley's work), with heavy blacks and whites with contrasting areas of flat color and thin linework. However, Beardsley leaned toward the perverse and erotic, while Horton gravitated toward the mystic and exotic.

3) In the years after Beardsley's premature death (from TB), Horton dug deeper inside himself for his visual inspiration (the work seems to have become more and more mystical over time). Horton's work was always much more inwardly, dark, and mystical, and it seemed to become more so over time.

4) Horton's work might have been labeled as surrealist except for two facts... Horton was English (by way of birth of Belgium) and Horton died in 1919; Surrealism was a French invention (by the poet Andre Breton) and only came into being by way of the Dada movement's demise in the mid 1920s.

5) Horton had a mental breakdown after the love of his life (writer Amy Audrey Locke) died in 1916 (though they supposedly co-habitated platonically, with no sex life to speak of), then died shortly afterward in 1919 when he was run over by a car. (WOW!)

The examples below come from a couple of sources... issues of The Savoy, and a Horton's A Book of Images. All of the work below predates 1900.

On a side note: I think the images below could work as a set for inspiring an adventure (though the order might need to be slightly rearranged).


  1. The ... duoliths(?) with the hanged men is my favourite. If I ever need an entry gate to an oppressive city state, I'll just show my players this when they start to get near... should set the mood just fine. :)

  2. Wow nice! And really interesting to read about his little-known life... thanks for the research and presentation!