Henry Patrick Raleigh was a superb natural draftsman in the classic tradition of F.R. Gruger and Wallace Morgan. He was a “star” during the Golden Age of American Illustration (1900–1930). His graceful, fluid drawings, usually of crowded social scenes, were done in line, wash or colored inks and seemed to flow from his fingertips.
Born of Irish parents in Portland, Oregon, he moved to San Francisco at the age of twelve and got a job as a shipping clerk in a coffee concern in order to help support his mother and sister. The head of the firm became impressed by his drawing ability and sent him to Hopkins Academy in San Francisco to study art. At seventeen, he was hired by the San Francisco Chronicle as a cub reporter-artist covering such assignments as fires, floods and “promising young corpses” at the morgue to illustrate the latest murder or suicide. He later did graphic reporting on the Spanish-American War and the Klondike Gold Rush.
By nineteen, he was working for the San Francisco Examiner, William Randolph Hearst’s favorite newspaper, as one of their highest paid artists. From there, it was just a short step to New York and work on Hearst’s Journal and assignment on other magazines.
The craft he learned as a newspaper reporter required a keen eye, a remarkable memory and a sense of “something about to happen.” Raleigh realized the importance of this experience when he said. “Contemporary illustrators might consider with some envy the perspective genius of their predecessors whose contact with life was intimate before the camera and its secondhand authority.” A natural draftsmen, he disdained the camera.
His exposure through the vast combined circulation of the Post, Harper’s Bazaar and Hearst’s International made him famous and his prolific production made him wealthy. He was able to indulge his fondness for yachts and travel. To Raleigh, “travel restored the fresh childlike enthusiasm, naiveté and spontaneity which is absolutely necessary if art is going to mean anything.” His sketches of these journeys and his rare etchings were not executed until his return home—a tribute to his powers of observation and memory.
A serious etcher, he produced many fine plates. He was awarded the Shaw Prize for illustration from the Salmagundi Club in 1916 and the Gold Medal for Advertising Art in America in 1926.
Home to Raleigh was what is now the famous artist’s colony of Westport, Connectict. He, George Wright, Frederick Dorr Steele and Rose O’Neill helped pioneer that area’s popularity. However, Raleigh spent a large part of his life in seclusion in his Gramercy Park studio.
It was in this “illustration-a-day” studio that he distinguished himself “by his ability to depict a large group of people in an interior with refinement and grace.” His classic campaign for Maxwell House Coffee, commissioned by the J. Walter Thompson Advertising Agency, depicted dramatic scenes of Southern Ante-Bellum society, set in elaborate homes.
Raleigh believed, and his drawings proved, that illustrators are artists in the broadest sense of the word. His newspaper experience and its discipline, his appreciation for Forain and Daumier’s incisive interpretation of character all helped to develop his individual work.
His fame brought sadness to the story of this outstanding artist. He lived a lifestyle he thought would never end. While he delineated a social scene of gaiety and elegance, he himself grew morose and introverted. Unable to adapt to illustration’s new market, and not willing to accept the social mores of the late 30s and 40s, his spirit cracked and, in 1944, Raleigh took his own life.
His art, however, has never paled and he remains a giant from the era of the Golden Age of American Illustration.
© 2011 Society of Illustrators