Obituary: Robin Jacques

Robin Jacques may be one of the last truly distinguished illustrators never to have had any formal training.

Born in Chelsea, the son of a professional soldier and brother to the actress Hattie Jacques, he left the Royal Masonic Schools, Bushey, in Hertfordshire, at the age of 16. Working during the day, he practised drawing in the evenings and at weekends, copying from anatomical books while also using his friends as models. Joining up with the Royal Engineers during the Second World War, he was invalided out in 1945 having served in three different countries.

Very soon he started illustrating books as well as acting as art editor for the Strand Magazine. Don Quixote, Hans Andersen's Fairy Tales, Gulliver's Travels, and The Arabian Nights all benefited from his meticulous draughtsmanship. There were also frequent appearances in the Radio Times, Punch and the Listener. But in John Ryder's Artists in a Certain Line (1960), a study of leading contemporary illustrators, Jacques is quoted as believing his style had crystallised too early, leaving too little room for development. For him, the 20 years spent refining it had not been rewarding:

"I should like to stop drawing for some time and completely realign my ideas on style and approach. I love to draw but need to solve the contradiction between my ideas and my work as it is."

Such time off was never a possibility for an illustrator so constantly in demand. There was indeed a sameness about his style over the years, but when such high standards of artistry were involved few of his customers would ever wish to complain. This was particularly true of children, for whom Jacques provided the great bulk of his work. He was adept at packing an extraordinary amount of detail into a small space, so providing just the type of realism most appreciated by young readers who want to know exactly what a favourite character looked like. In his illustrations for Lynne Reid Banks's classic story The Indian in the Cupboard (1981), the two tiny feuding figures involved are perfectly realised, sometimes in the smallest of spaces on the page.

His most productive partnership in children's books was with the author Ruth Manning-Sanders and her A Book of . . . series, starting with Giants in 1962 and working their way through to Magic Adventures 21 years later. Published by Methuen, they all bore striking jacket designs in full colour. But as with his great contemporary Edward Ardizzone, Jacques's real talents were always for black-and-white drawings. Drawn with the finest of lines against backgrounds made up of innumerable swirling dots, his heroes and heroines stood out as if momentarily frozen in what they were doing. This static quality, even in the middle of otherwise violent action, was typical of Jacques's style. These were drawings over which children could always take their time, observing every detail at leisure without ever feeling rushed towards the next sequence.

The characters he created were individuals rather than types. The tough young peasants in his fairy tales refuse to be patronised, often looking out at the reader from the corners of their eyes and clearly knowing far more than they are letting on to. Stupid characters avoid any eye contact at all in their rush to get everything wrong. But their occasional ugliness was still comic rather than grotesque; there is none of the cruelty of contemporary satire in any of Jacques's drawings. Throughout his working life he worked instead towards a consistently high humanistic standard in the many children's books and fewer adult novels he illustrated right up to his death just before his 75th birthday.

Nicholas Tucker

Robin Jacques, artist and illustrator: born 27 March 1920; married 1943 Patricia Bamford (deceased), 1958 Azetta van der Merwe (deceased; one son), thirdly Alexandra Mann (marriage dissolved); died 18 March 1995.

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