Read CHAPTER I. of The Confessions of a Caricaturist‚ Vol. 2, free online book, by Harry Furniss, on


The First Idea-How it was Made-“Fire!”-I am a Somnambulist-My Workshop-My Business “Partner”-Not by Gainsborough-Lord Leighton-The Private View-The Catalogue-Sold Out-How the R.A.’s Took It-How a Critic Took It-Curious Offers-Mr. Sambourne as a Company Promoter-A One-man Show-Punch’s Mistake-A Joke within a Joke-My Offer to the Nation.

In the year 1887 he startled the town and made a Society sensation by means of an exceedingly original enterprise which any man of less audacious and prodigious power of work would have shrunk from in its very inception. For years this Titanic task was in hand. This was his celebrated ‘artistic joke,’ the name given by the ‘Times’ to a bold parody on a large scale of an average Royal Academy Exhibition. This great show was held at the Gainsborough Gallery, New Bond Street, and consisted of some eighty-seven pictures of considerable size, executed in monochrome, and presenting to a marvelling public travesties-some excruciatingly humorous and daringly satirical, others really exquisite in their rendering of physical traits and landscape features-of the styles, techniques, and peculiar choice of subjects of a number of the leading artists, R.A.’s and others, who annually exhibit at Burlington House. It was a surprise, even to his intimate friends, who, with one or two exceptions, knew nothing about it until the announcement that Mr. Furniss had his own private Royal Academy appeared in the ‘Times.’ He worked in secret at intervals, under a heavy strain, to get the Exhibition ready, particularly as he had to manage the whole of the business part; for the show at the Gainsborough Gallery was entirely his own speculation. Granted that the experiment was daring, yet the audacity of the artist fascinated people. Nor did the Academicians, whom some thought would have been annoyed at the fun, as a body resent it. They were not so silly, though a minority muttered. Most of them saw that Mr. Furniss was not animated by any desire to hold them up to contempt, but his parodies were perfectly good-natured, that he had served all alike, and that he had only sought the advancement of English art. During the whole season the gallery was crushed to overflowing, the coldest critics were dazzled, the public charmed, and literally all London laughed. It furnished the journalistic critics of the country with material for reams of descriptive articles and showers of personal paragraphs, and whether relished or disrelished by particular members of the artistic profession, at least proved to them, as to the world at large, the varied powers (in some phases hitherto unsuspected) and exuberant energies of the Harry Furniss whose name was now on the tongue and whose bold signature was familiar to the eyes of that not easily impressed entity, the General Public.

"In fact, London had never seen anything so original as Harry Furniss’s Royal Academy. The work of one man, and that man one of the busiest professional men in town. Indeed it might be thought that at the age of thirty, with all the foremost magazines and journals waiting on his leisure, with a handsome income and an enviable social position assured, ambition could hardly live in the bosom of an artist in black and white. Unlike Alexander, our hero did not sit down and weep that no kingdom remained to conquer, but set quietly to work to create a new realm all his own. His Royal Academy, although presented by himself to the public as an ‘artistic joke,’ showed that he could not only use the brush on a large scale, but that he could compose to perfection, and after the exuberant humour of the show, nothing delighted and surprised the public more than the artistic quality and finished technique in much of the work, a finish far and away above the work of any caricaturist of our time."

The idea first occurred to me at a friend’s house, when my host after dinner took me into the picture gallery to show me a portrait of his wife just completed by Mr. Slapdash, R.A. It stood at the end of the gallery, the massive frame draped with artistic care, while attendants stood obsequiously round, holding lights so as to display the chef d’[oe]uvre to the utmost advantage. As I beheld the picture for the first time I was simply struck dumb by the excessively bad work which it contained. The dictates of courtesy of course required that I should say all the civil things I could about it, but I could hardly repress a smile when I heard someone else pronounce the portrait to be charming. However, as my host seemed to think that perhaps I was too near, and that the work might gain in enchantment if I gave it a little distance, we moved towards the other end of the gallery and, at his suggestion, looked into an antiquated mirror, where I got in the half light what seemed a reflection of it. The improvement was obvious, and I told my friend so. I told him that the effect was now so lifelike that the figure seemed to be moving; but when he in turn gazed into the glass he explained somewhat testily that I was not looking at his wife’s portrait at all, but at the white parrot in the cage hard by. The moral of this incident is that if patrons of art in their pursuit of eccentricities will pay large sums to an artist for placing a poor portrait in a massive frame with drapery hanging round it in the most approved modern style, and be satisfied with such a result, they must not be surprised if a parrot should be mistaken for a framed type of beauty. I was, however, not satisfied until I had examined the picture in question closely and honestly in the full light of day, when I saw that Mr. Slapdash, R.A., had sold his autograph and a soiled canvas in lieu of a portrait to my rich but too easily pleased friend.

As I walked back into the drawing-room, one of the musical humorists of the day was cleverly taking off the weak points of his brother musicians, and bringing out into strong light their peculiarities and faults of style. The entertainment, however, did not tend to raise my drooping spirits, for I was sad to think how low our modern art had sunk, and with a heavy heart and a sigh for the profession I pursue, I went sadly home. Of course my pent-up feelings had to find relief, so my poor wife had to listen to an extempore lecture which I then and there delivered to her on portraiture past and present-a lecture which I fear would hardly commend itself to the Association for the Advancement of British Art. Further, I asked myself why should I not take a leaf out of the musical humorist’s book and like him expose the tricks and eccentricities of British art in the present day?

The following morning, being a man of action as well as of word, I started my “Artistic Joke.” I was determined to keep the matter secret, so I worked with my studio doors closed, and as each picture was finished it was placed behind some heavy curtains, secure from observation, and I kept my secret for three years, until the work was complete.

I soon found that I had set myself a task of no little magnitude. Before I could really make a start I had to examine each artist’s work thoroughly. I studied specimens of the work of each at various periods of his or her career. I had to discover their mannerisms, their idiosyncrasies and ideas, if they had any, their tricks of brushwork, and all the technicalities of their art. Then I designed a picture myself in imitation of each artist. In a very few instances only did I parody an actual work. This fact was generally lost sight of by those who visited the Exhibition. The public imagined that I simply took a certain picture of a particular artist and burlesqued it. I did this certainly in the case of Millais’ “Cinderella” and one or two others; but in the vast majority of the works exhibited, even in Marcus Stone’s “Rejected Addresses,” which appeared to so many as if it must have been a direct copy of some picture of his, the idea was entirely evolved out of my own imagination. In thinking out the various pictures I devoted the greatest care to accuracy of detail. I was particular as to the shape of each, and even went so far as to obtain frames in keeping with those used by the different artists. Of course it was out of the question for me to do the pictures in colour, which would have required a lifetime, and probably tempted me to break faith with my idea; not to mention the fact that I should in that case most likely have sent the collection to the Academy, of which obtuse body, if there is any justice in it, I must then naturally have been elected a full-blown member.

In order to get the Exhibition finished in time, I often had to work far into the night, and on one occasion when I was thus secretly engaged in my studio upon these large pictures until the small hours, I remember a catastrophe very nearly happened which would have put a finishing touch of a very different kind to that which I intended, not only to the picture, but to the artist himself. It happened thus. About three o’clock in the morning, long after the household had retired to rest, I became conscious of a smell of burning. I made a minute search round the studio, but could not discover the slightest indication of an incipient conflagration. Then a dreadful thought occurred to me. Beneath the studio is a vault, access to which is gained by a trap-door in the floor. Could it be that the secret of my “Artistic Joke” had become common property in the artistic world, and that some vindictive Academician, bent upon preventing the impending caricature of his chef d’[oe]uvre, was even now, like another Guy Fawkes, concealed below, and in the dead of night was already commencing his diabolical attempt to roast me alive in the midst of my caricatures? Up went the trap-door, and with candle in hand I explored the vault. The result was to calm my apprehensions upon this score, for there was no one there. Still mystified as to where the smell of fire, now distinctly perceptible, came from, I next walked round the outside of my studio, exciting evident suspicion in the mind of the policeman on his beat. No, there was not a spark to be seen; no keg of gunpowder, no black leather bag, no dynamite, no infernal machine. I returned into the house and went upstairs, roused all my family and servants, who, after a close examination, returned to their beds, assuring me that all was safe there, and half wondering whether the persistent pursuit of caricaturing does not produce an enfeebling effect upon the mind. Consoled by their assurances, I returned once more to my studio, where the burning smell grew worse and worse. However, concluding that it was due to some fire in the neighbourhood, I settled down to work once more; but hardly had I taken my brush in hand when showers of sparks and particles of smouldering wood began to descend upon my head and shoulders, and cover the work I was engaged on. I started up, and looking up at my big sunlight, saw to my horror that I had wound up my easel, which is twelve feet high, and more nearly resembles a guillotine than anything else, so far that the top of it was in immediate contact with the gas, and actually alight!

The Times took the unusual course of giving, a month in advance of its opening on April 23rd, 1887, a preliminary notice of this Exhibition.

It said: “A novel Exhibition, for which we venture to prophesy no little success, is being prepared by Harry Furniss of Punch celebrity. As everyone knows, Mr. Furniss has long adorned the columns of our contemporary with pictorial parodies of the chief pictures of the Royal Academy, the Grosvenor, and other shows, and it has now occurred to him to develop this idea and to have a humorous Royal Academy of his own. He has taken the Gainsborough Gallery in Old Bond Street, which he will fill some time before the opening of Burlington House with a display of elaborate travesties of the works of all the best known artists of the day. There will be seventy pictures in black and white, many of them large size, turning into good-natured ridicule the works of every painter, good and bad, whose pictures are familiar to the public,” etc., etc. This gives a very fair idea of the nature and objects of my “Royal Academy.” My aim was to burlesque not so much individual works as general style, not so much specific performances as habitual manner. As an example I take the work of that clever decorative painter and etcher, Mr. R. W. Macbeth, A.R.A. By his permission I here reproduce reductions in black and white of three of his well-known pictures, and side by side I show my parody of his style and composition-not, as you will observe, a caricature of any one picture, but a boiling down of all into an original picture of my own in which I emphasise his mannerisms. Furthermore, in my catalogue I parodied the same artist’s mannerism in drawing in black and white, and with one or two exceptions this applies to all the works I exhibited. I hit upon a new idea for the illustrated catalogue. The illustrations, with few exceptions, did not convey any idea of the composition of the pictures, and in many cases they were designed to further the idea and object of the Exhibition by reference to pictures not included therein. My joke was that the Exhibition could not be understood by anyone without a catalogue, and the catalogue could not be understood by anyone without seeing the Exhibition. Therefore everyone visiting the Exhibition had to buy a catalogue, and everyone seeing the catalogue had to visit the Exhibition. Q.E.D.! The idea, the catalogue, and everything connected with this “Artistic Joke” were my own, with the exception of the title, which was so happily supplied by Mr. Humphry Ward as the heading to the preliminary notice he wrote for the Times. At the last moment I called in my fellow-worker on Punch, Mr. E. J. Milliken, to assist me with some of the letterpress of the catalogue and write the verses for it. I had all but a small portion of the catalogue written before he so kindly gave this assistance, but at the suggestion of a mutual friend I gave him half the profits of the catalogue, which amounted to several hundred pounds. I am obliged to make this point clear, as to my astonishment it was reported that the whole Exhibition was a joint affair, no doubt originated by Mr. Punch in a few lines: “When two of Mr. Punch’s young men put their heads together to produce so excellent a literary and artistic a joke as that now on view at the Gainsborough Gallery -” This was accepted as a matter of fact by many, not knowing that this “joke,” my work of years, was a secret in the Punch circle as outside it. The false impression which Mr. Punch had originated he corrected in his Happy Thought way: “The Artistic Jubilee Jocademy in Bond Street.-The fire insurances on the building will be uncommonly heavy because there is to be a show of Furniss’s constantly going on inside. Why not call it ’Furniss Abbey Thoughts?’”




Reproduced by permission of the Artist.

My parody in “An Artistic Joke” of Mr. Macbeth’s composition and style of work, showing that in my “Academy” I did not parody one subject, but designed a picture embodying all the characteristics of the Artist.]

The following brief correspondence passed between the President of the Royal Academy and myself:-

“Mr. Harry Furniss presents his compliments to Sir Frederick
Leighton and trusts he will forgive being bothered with the
following little matter.

“Sir Frederick is no doubt aware of Mr. Furniss’s intention to have a little Exhibition in Bond Street this spring,-a good-natured parody on the Royal Academy. The title settled upon-the only one that explains its object-is


“In this particular case the authorities (Mr. Furniss is informed) see no objection to the use of the word Royal pure and simple, but as a matter of etiquette he thinks it right to ask the question of Sir Frederick Leighton also.

March 11th, 1887.

A word or two may not be out of place here on the practical difficulties which beset an artist who opens an Exhibition on his own account, and is forced by circumstances to become his own “exploiteur.” Men may have worked with a more ambitious object, but certainly no man can ever have worked harder than I did at this period. Outside work was pouring in, my current Punch work seemed to be increasing, but I never allowed “Furniss’s Folly” (as some good-natured friend called my Exhibition at the moment) to interfere with it. I had only arranged with a “business man” to take the actual “running” of the show off my hands, and he was to have half the profits if there should happen to be any. At the critical moment, when I was working night and day at my easel, when in fact the “murther was out” and the date actually settled for the “cracking” of my joke-in short, when I fondly imagined that all the arrangements were made, I received a letter from my “business” friend backing out of the affair, “as he doubted its success.” Half-an-hour after the receipt of this staggerer (I have never had time to reply to it) I was dashing into Bond Street, where I quickly made all arrangements for the hire of a gallery and the necessary printing, engaged an advertising agent and staff, and myself saw after the thousand and one things indispensable to an undertaking of this kind. And all this extraneous worry continued to hamper my studio work until the Exhibition was actually opened. Of course I had to make hurried engagements at any price, and consequently bad ones for me. Every householder is aware that should he change his abode he is surrounded in his new home by a swarm of local tradespeople and others anxious to get something out of him. Well, my experience upon entering the world of “business,” hitherto strange to me, was precisely the same. All sorts of parasites try to fasten themselves on to you. Business houses regard you as an amateur, and consequently you pay dearly for your experience. You are not up to the tricks of the trade, and although you may not generally be written down an ass, you must in your new vocation pay your footing. It is therefore incumbent upon anyone entering the world of trade for the first time to keep his wits very much about him.

The local habitation for my Exhibition, which upon the spur of the moment I was fortunate enough to find in Bond Street, was called for some inexplicable reason the Gainsborough Gallery, and thereby hangs a tale. One afternoon there arrived a venerable dowager in a gorgeous canary-coloured chariot, attended by her two colossal footmen. She sailed into the gallery, which, fortunately for the old and scant of breath, was on the ground floor, and slightly raising the pince-nez on her aristocratic nose, looked about her with an air of bewilderment. Then going up to my secretary she said, “Surely! these are not by Gainsborough?”

“No, madam,” was the reply. “This is the Gainsborough Gallery, but the pictures are by Harry Furniss.”

Almost fainting on the spot, the old lady called for her salts, her stick, and her attendants three, and was rapidly driven away from the scene of her lamentable mistake.

The public attendance at the “The Artistic Joke” was prodigious from the first. Even upon the private view day, when I introduced a novelty, and instead of inviting everybody who is somebody to pay a gratuitous visit to the show, raised the entrance fee to half-a-crown, the fashionable crowd besieged the doors from an early hour, and made a very considerable addition to my treasury. Those of my readers, however, who did not pay a visit to the Gainsborough will be better able to realise the amount of patronage we received, notwithstanding the numerous attractions of the “Jubilee” London season, if I relate an incident which occurred on the Saturday after we opened. It was the “private view” of the Grosvenor Gallery, and the crowd was immense. Indeed, many ladies and gentlemen were returning to their carriages without going through the rooms, not, like my patron the dowager, because they were disappointed at not finding the work of the old masters, but because the visitors were too numerous and the atmosphere too oppressive. As I passed through the people I heard a lady who was stepping into her carriage say to a friend, “I have just come from ‘The Artistic Joke,’ and the crowd is even worse there. They have had to close the doors because the supply of catalogues was exhausted.” This soon caused me to quicken my pace, and hastening down the street to my own Exhibition, I found the police standing at the doors and the people being turned away. The simple explanation of this was that so great had been the public demand that the stock of catalogues furnished by the printers was exhausted early in the afternoon, and as it was quite impossible to understand the caricatures without a catalogue, there was no alternative but to close the doors until some more were forthcoming.

Finding the telephone was no use, I was soon in a hansom bound for the City, intending by hook or by crook to bring back with me the much-needed catalogues, or the body of the printer dead or alive. Upon arriving in the City, however, to my chagrin I found his place of business closed, though the caretaker, with a touch of fiendish malignity, showed me through a window whole piles of my non-delivered catalogues. Not to be beaten, I hastened back to the West End and despatched a very long and explicit telegram to the printer at his private house (of course he would not be back in the City until Monday), requiring him, under pain of various severe penalties, to yield up my catalogues instanter. As I stood in the post office of Burlington House anxiously penning this message, and harassed into a state of almost feverish excitement, the sounds of martial music and the tramp of armed men in the adjacent courtyard fell upon my distracted ear. With a sickly and sardonic smile upon my face I laid down the pen and peeped through the door.

“Yes! I see it all now,” I muttered. “The whole thing is a plant. The printer was bribed, and, coûte que coûte, the Academy has decided to take my body! Hence the presence of the military; and see, those cooks-what are they doing here in their white caps? My body! Ha! then nothing short of cannibalism is intended!”

This frightful thought almost precipitated me into the very ranks of the soldiery, when I discovered that the corps was none other than that of the Artist Volunteers, which contains several of my friends. Seizing one of those whom I chanced to recognise, I hurriedly whispered in his ear the thoughts of impending butchery which were passing in my terrified mind. But he only laughed. “You will disturb their digestions, my dear Furniss, some other way,” he said, “than by providing them with a piece de resistance. Make your mind easy, for we are only here to do honour to the guests. This is the banqueting night of the Royal Academy.”

From what I heard, some amusing incidents occurred in the house at my “Royal Academy.”

A portion of my parody of the work of Sir Alma Tadema, R.A.

It was no uncommon sight to see the friends and relatives, even the sons and daughters, of certain well-known Academicians standing opposite the parody of a particular picture, and hugely enjoying it at the expense of the parent or friend who had painted the original. Other R.A.’s, who went about pooh-poohing the whole affair, and saying that they intended to ignore it altogether, turned up nevertheless in due time at the Gainsborough, where, it is true, they did not generally remain very long. They had not come to see the Exhibition, but only their own pictures. One glance was usually enough, and then they vanished. The critics (and their friends) of course remained longer. Even Mr. Sala went in one day and seemed to be immensely tickled by what he saw. Strange to relate, however, when he had passed through about one-third of the show, he was observed to stop abruptly, turn himself round, and flee away incontinently, never to be seen there again. I was much puzzled to discover a reason for this remarkable man[oe]uvre, the more so as at that time I had not wounded his amour propre by indulging in an “Artistic Joke” of much more diminutive proportions at his expense, or, as it subsequently turned out, at my own. Since, however, the world-famous trial of Sala v. Furniss I have looked carefully over all the pictures in my Royal Academy, with a view to throwing some light upon the critic’s abrupt departure. I remain, nevertheless, in the dark, for the most rigid scrutiny has failed to reveal to me one single feature in the show, not even a Grecian nose, or a foot with six toes, which could have jarred upon the refined taste of the most sensitive of journalists. I shall return to Mr. Sala in another portion of these confessions, but am more concerned now with the parasites, the artistic failures, the common showmen, the traffickers in various wares, and other specimens of more or less impecunious humanity, who applied to me to let them participate in the profits of a success which I had toiled so hard to achieve. In imitation of Barnum, I might have had, if I had been so inclined, a series of side shows, ranging in kind from the big diamond which a well-known firm in Bond Street asked me to let them exhibit, to the “Queen’s Bears” and a curious waxwork of a bald old man which by means of electricity showed the gradual alterations of tint produced by the growth of intemperance. One of these applications I was for a moment inclined to entertain. It has more than once been proposed that to enable the British public to take its annual bolus at Burlington House with less nausea, the Royal Academy should introduce a band of some sort, so that under the influence of its inspiriting strains the masterpieces might be robbed of a little of their tameness, the portrait of My Lord Knoshoo might seem less out of place in a public Exhibition, and the insanities of certain demented colourists might be made less obtrusive monopolists of one’s attention. Therefore, when “a musical lady and her daughters” applied to me for permission to give “Soirees Musicales” at the Gainsborough, it struck me for a moment that it would be effective to forestall the action of the Academy; but on second thoughts I reflected that as the Burlington House band would probably be of the same quality as the pictures, it would be adhering more closely to the spirit of my “Artistic Joke” if I gave my patrons a barrel organ or a hurdy-gurdy which should play the “Old Hundredth” by steam. Although one would have thought that a single visit of a few hours’ duration would have sufficed to go through a humorous Exhibition of this kind, I found that several people became habitues of the place, and paid many visits; but it is of course possible to have too much of a good thing, and a joke loses its point when you have too much of it. No better illustration of this can be afforded than in the case of my own secretary at the time, who had sat in the Exhibition for many months. One day, when the plates were being prepared for an album which I published as a souvenir of the show, the engraver arrived with a proof.

“But there is some mistake here,” said my secretary. “We have no such picture as that on the premises.”

The engraver was puzzled, and as he seemed rather sceptical upon the point, he was allowed to look round, and speedily found the picture he had copied. It had actually been close at my secretary’s elbow since the “Artistic Joke” was opened to the public, but as the pictures were all under glass, I suppose he had only seen his own reflection when gazing at them. It was this perhaps which caused another gentleman whom I have before mentioned to beat so hasty a retreat. Both of them may have been frightened by what they saw.

The suggestion that I should be run as a public company emanated from the fertile brain of my friend Mr. Linley Sambourne. This is his rough idea of the prospectus:

This Company has been formed to acquire the sole exclusive concession of the marvellous and rapid power of production of the above-mentioned Managing Director, and to take over the same as a going concern.

These productions have been in continual flow for many years past, and are too well known to need any assurance of the possibility of a failure of supply. It is therefore with the utmost confidence that this sure and certain investment is now offered to the public with an absolute guarantee of a percentage for Fifteen Years of Forty-five per cent.

Mr. Furniss can be seen at work with the regularity of a threshing
machine and the variety of a kaleidoscope any day from 8 o’c. a.m.
to 8 o’c. p.m. on presentation of visiting card.

Close, Gatherum & Co., Lombard Street.

Black, White & Co., Tube Court.

SECRETARY, pro tem.
Earl M -,
Arrystone Grange.

The Subscription List will close on or before Monday, April 1st,

Messrs. C. White & Greyon Grey invite subscriptions for the
undermentioned Share Capital and Debentures of the


Incorporated under the Joint Stock Companies Acts, 1862 and 1883.

Share Capital L4,000,000.

Divided as follows:

450,000 Ordinary Shares of L5 each L2,250,
175,000 7 p.c. Cumulative Preference Shares
of L10 each 1,750,000


Chairman: H. V - W -, Esq., Regent Street, photographer.
Sir John S - V -, Kt., Pine Court, Kent.
H - F -, Esq., Draughtsman and Designer, 45, Drury Lane.

will join the Board as Managing Director on allotment.


A showman, particularly with some attraction of the passing hour, must “boom his show for all it’s worth,” as the Americans say; so I “boomed” my “Artistic Joke” with an advertising joke, and at the same time parodied another branch of art-the art of advertising the artists, by a special number of a magazine devoted to the work of an Academician. The special numbers, generally published at Christmas, are familiar and interesting to us all. Still, from any point of view they are fair game. They are of course merely non-critical, eulogistic accounts of the artist and his work. So

How he Did It-The Story of my ’Artistic Joke,’” duly appeared, written by my Lay-figure.


“The fact of my being only an artist’s lay-figure will account for any stiffness or angularity in my literary style. Whilst conscious of my deficiencies in this respect, I am comforted by the consideration that a lay-figure attempting literature cannot by any possibility perpetrate greater absurdities than are committed by many a ready writer who indulges in those glowing and gushing descriptions of artists and their work which it is now the fashion to publish, in some such shape as the present, for the delectation (and delusion) of a gossip-loving public.”

This, the origin of “The Artistic Joke,” is a fair specimen of the absurdity I published as an advertisement, though many bought it and read it as a “true and authentic account” of the confessions of a caricaturist’s lay-figure:

“As many would be interested in knowing how this extraordinary idea of an Academy pour rire first occurred to this artist, I hasten to gratify their natural curiosity. It was before little Harry reached the age of seven, and while watching with fellow-feeling the house-painters at work in his father’s house. One day, at lunchtime, when the men had left their ladders and paraphernalia near the picture-gallery (a long room containing choice works of all the great masters), he seized his opportunity: with herculean strength and Buffalo-Billish agility, our hero dragged all the ladders, paints and brushes into the gallery, and soon was at work ‘touching up’ the pictures, to gratify his boyish love of mischief. Truth to tell, his performance was but on a par, artistically, with that usually shown when mischievous boys get hold of brushes and paint and a picture to restore.”

25, Old Bond Street,
Jubilee Day 1887

I have been favoured-if that is the proper word-with a sight of an advance copy of this perpetration.

I feel that the Easy confidence which has hitherto existed between an artist and his Lay Figure is for ever broken and fled. If I had only known that wine was taking advantage of her exceptional opportunities to betray my misplaced confidence in this popular but pestilent fashion, I would have made firewood of her long ago.

It is now too late. The temptation is turn Graphic Gusher and confidential Trotter-out, has proved too much for a wee docile and discreet Lay Figure. I am one more victim at unsuspected hands, to the revolting rage for “Revelations.”

I am bound to admit, however, that whilst the taste of the whole “Story” is execrable, the facts upon which it is founded are undisputable.

The Tale is an o’er true one, though it has been compiled without the knowledge, and is published exactly against the desire of

Harry Furniss

“Before Harry had finished touching-up the valuable family portraits, his father came in, glanced round, and fell onto a couch in roars of laughter. ’It’s the best Artistic Joke I’ve ever seen, my boy, and here’s a shilling for you!’ A happy thought struck Harry at the moment. He kept it to himself for over twenty-five years; and now, standing high upon an allegorical ladder, he repeats the Joke daily, from nine to seven, admission one shilling.”

This book of sixty pages sold extremely well, and, strange to say, I made more money out of this joking advertisement-the work of a few days-than I did out of my elaborate album of seventy photogravure plates which occupied two years to produce and cost me L2,000.

The following lines from Fun give the origin of my Joke’s peculiar and ingenious turn:

“The fact is the Forty were sad in their mind
(Unfortunate Acádemicians!)
Associates also were troubled in kind,
With jeers at their works and positions,
Till one who was younger and bolder than all
Declared ‘doleful dumps’ to be folly,
’Come-away to the club, and for supper let’s call,
And try to be decently jolly.’

“So they fed with good will on the viands prepared
(Pork chops were the principal portion),
Then retiring to bed, with their dreams they were scared,
And spent half the night in contortion;
Then rose in their sleep and came down to this room,
And, instead of a purposeless pawing,
They painted these pictures, then fled in the gloom,
And Furniss has touched up the drawing!”

Having parodied the artists’ work, the R.A. catalogue, and the publishers’ R.A. special numbers, I went one step further. I parodied “Art Patrons.” At that time there was a great stir in art circles in consequence of the authorities of the National Gallery dallying with Mr. Tate’s offer of his pictures to the nation; so to emulate him, and Mr. Alexander, and Mr. Watts, and other public benefactors in the world of art, I sent the following letter to the Directors of the National Gallery:

“Mr. Harry Furniss presents his compliments to the Trustees of the National Gallery and begs to congratulate them upon the munificent gifts lately made to them, particularly Mr. Henry Tate’s, which provides the nation with an excellent sample of current art. At the same time Mr. Harry Furniss feels that having it in his power to provide a more complete collection of our modern English school, he is inspired by the generous offers of others to humbly imitate this good example, and will therefore willingly give his ‘Royal Academy’ (parodies on modern painters), better known as ‘The Artistic Joke,’ which caused such a sensation in 1887, to the National Gallery if the Trustees will honour him by accepting the collection.”

Yet it was not believed, at least not in Aberdeen, for the leading paper of the Granite City published the following:

“Someone has played a joke on Mr. Harry Furniss. An announcement appears this morning to the effect that ’animated by the generosity of Mr. Henry Tate and other benefactors of the National Gallery, Mr. Harry Furniss has offered to the Trustees his collection of illustrations of the work of modern artists recently on view in Bond Street,’ and that he ’has received a communication to the effect that his offer is under consideration.’ I believe no one was more surprised by this communication than Mr. Furniss. He never made the offer except possibly in jest to some Member of Parliament, and naturally he was much surprised to learn that his offer was ‘under consideration.’ The illustrations in question could scarcely be dispensed with by Mr. Furniss, as they are to him a sort of stock-in-trade.”

Not only in Aberdeen but I found generally my seriousness was doubted, so I reproduce on the opposite page in facsimile the graceful reply of the authorities of our National Gallery:

The “Artistic Joke” was never intended as an attack on the Royal Academy at all, as a clear-headed critic wrote:

“It would be more just to regard it as an attempt on Mr. Furniss’s part to show the Academicians the possibilities of real beauty, and wonder, and pleasure that lie hidden in their work.... On the whole, the Royal Academicians have never appeared under more favourable conditions than in this pleasant gallery. Mr. Furniss has shown that the one thing lacking in them is sense of humour, and that, if they would not take themselves so seriously, they might produce work that would be a joy, and not a weariness to the world. Whether or not they will profit by the lessons it is difficult to say, for dulness has become the basis of respectability, and seriousness the only refuge of the shallow.”