George Louis Palmella Busson du Maurier
(6 March 1834 - 8 October 1896)
[Artists of the Nineteenth Century and their Works, Clara Erskine Clement and Laurence Hutton, 1879.]
DU MAURIER, George Louis Palmella Busson, humorous artist, was born in Paris in 1831. His mother was English, and his father, a son of French emigres settled in London, was a naturalized British subject. Charming memories of his childhood and boyhood, spent chiefly at Passy with his parents, and at a Paris school, are to be found, charmingly illustrated, in the three novels, Peter Ibbetson, Trilby, and The Martian, which won him an entirely new kind of fame in the closing years of his life. At the age of twenty he began the study of chemistry at University College, London, setting up shortly afterwards as an analytical chemist in Bucklersbury. But he had found his true vocation in 1856, and after some years of study in the Latin Quarter, and at Antwerp, in the studio of Van Lerius (where he gradually lost the use of his left eye, a lifelong misfortune), he returned to London, and in 1860, submitted a sketch to Punch, which immediately won him the favour of its editor, Mark Lemon. Critics are agreed that Du Maurier's art was at its best during the next ten years. Excellent specimens of his work for Once a Week and The Cornhill, to both of which periodicals he was a regular contributor during this period, are given by Mr. Gleeson White in his English Illustrators of the Sixties. Many of his most characteristic drawings were done for books, beginning with an edition of Fox's Book of Martyrs, published in 1865. In 1866, he illustrated Mrs. Gaskell's Wives and Daughters; in 1867, Jerrold's Story of a Feather; in 1868, Owen Meredith's Lucile, The Book of Drawing-Room Plays, by H. Dalton, and 'ooner or Later, by C. A. G. Brooke; and in 1869, Thackeray's Esmond, to which he added some additional vignettes ten years later, when he also illustrated Thackeray's Ballads. He attained his highest level perhaps in some of his drawings for Esmond; but whatever must be admitted in regard to his work for Punch, there is little appreciable falling-off in his book illustrations in the seventies and eighties. In 1874, he illustrated Mr. C. W. Scott's Round about our Islands, and Mr. G. E. Sargent's Hurlock Chase; in 1876, Songs of many Seasons, by J. Brown; in 1877, The Ingoldsby Legends (in collaboration), and Pegasus Resaddled, by H. G. Pennell; in 1882, Prudence, by L. C. Lillie; in 1889, As in a Looking-glass, by F. C. Phillips; and in 1891, Luke Ashleigh, by A. Elwes. Peter Ibbetson, Trilby, and The Martian' after appearing serially in Harper's, were published in volume form, respectively, in 1892, 1894, 1897. In the same year, a collection of full-page drawings which he had contributed to Harper's' month by month, was republished under the title English Society, with an appreciative introduction by Mr. W. H. Howells.
It was in 1865, that Du Manner joined the staff of Punch regularly as Leech's successor in the field of social satire, devoting himself chiefly, by Mark Lemon's advice, to the "liglit and graceful business," but with occasional excursions into the fields (outside Leech's province) of the Toacabre and the grotesque. In temperament, if not in technique, the two artists had much in common. While Charles Keene's mirth-provoking characters seldom arouse in one feelings either of love or hate -- hardly even of like or dislike -- Leech's pages, as Du Manner himself remarked, "teem with winning, graceful, loveable types"; with "here and there a hateful one to give relief." This is equally true of Du Maurier's own work. There is feeling as well as fun in it; sympathy as well as satire. To a far greater degree than Leech, he is a critic, not merely a spectator, of life; the philosopher is as strong in him as the artist. It would be an injustice to him, therefore, to write only of his craftsmanship. Undoubtedly his Punch drawings, in course of time, lost something of their first freshness and simplicity, and became mannered and machine-made, but, at his worst, one may fairly apply to him another of his own judgments upon Leech: "If he shines more by what he has to say than by his manner of saying it, perhaps that is the better thing of the two to shine by if you cannot shine by both." There may be too much cross-hatching in the representation of Sir Pornpey Bedell's dress-clothes, but Sir Pompey himself, and Sir Gorgius Midas, and Mrs. Ponsonby de Tomkyns, will live for ever. The flaws in Du Maurier's craftsmanship are flaws, moreover, that are visible to experts alone. They are like the solecisms of construction and slips of grammar which for the too sensitive literary critic mar the masterpieces of Thackeray and Sir Walter Scott.
As a bachelor Du Maurier lived in lodgings in Bloomsbury with his friend Lionel Henley, afterwards A.R.A. In 1862, he married Miss Emma Wightwick, and settled down in a house near Hampstead Heath. His Punch drawings reflect pleasantly the nature of his life -- his active participation in all the functions of London Society, his own happy home and his holidays at Whitby and Scarborough, Boulogne and Dieppe. His faculty for hitting off the characteristics of racial types, one of his most distinctive gifts as an artist, is particularly noticeable in his various representations of life abroad; his Americans are almost his only failures. In 1881, he was elected a member of the Royal Society of Painters in Water-Colours, to whose exhibitions he had been contributing from time to time. In 1885, took place the first exliibition of his works at the Fine Arts Society. He died on October 8, 1896, and was buried in the Hampstead Cemetery.[Bryan's dictionary of painters and engravers, 1903]