Aesop's Fables: The Frogs Desiring a King
The National Art Library has a large collection of illustrated Aesop's Fables dating from the 15th century to the present day. The following extract is taken from The Fables of Aesop by Joseph Jacobs (London: Macmillan & Co., 1894), accompanied by a selection of images from the Library's collection.
'The Frogs were living as happy as could be in a marshy swamp that just suited them; they went splashing about caring for nobody and nobody troubling with them. But some of them thought that this was not right, that they should have a king and a proper constitution, so they determined to send up a petition to Jove to give them what they wanted.
"Mighty Jove," they cried, "send unto us a king that will rule over us and keep us in order." Jove laughed at their croaking, and threw down into the swamp a huge Log, which came down - kerplash! - into the swamp.
The Frogs were frightened out of their lives by the commotion made in their midst, and all rushed to the bank to look at the horrible monster; but after a time, seeing that it did not move, one or two of the boldest of them ventured out towards the Log, and even dared to touch it; still it did not move. Then the greatest hero of the Frogs jumped upon the Log and commenced dancing up and down upon it, thereupon all the Frogs came and did the same; and for some time the Frogs went about their business every day without taking the slightest notice of their new King Log lying in their midst. But this did not suit them, so they sent another petition to Jove, and said to him, "We want a real king; one that will really rule over us."
Now this made Jove angry, so he sent among them a big Stork that soon set to work gobbling them all up. Then the Frogs repented when too late. Better no rule than cruel rule.'
John Vernon Lord, 'The Frogs Asking for a King'
John Vernon Lord
'The Frogs Asking for a King'
Illustration from wood-engravings
From 'Aesop's Fables', retold in verse by James Mitchie
Published by Jonathan Cape, London
National Art Library Pressmark: 60.HH.46
John Vernon Lord (born 1939) used the area around his home in Ditchling, Sussex, as setting for his Aesop's Fables illustrations. His pen and ink drawings are painstaking in their detail and resemble wood engravings. Lord used mapping and Rotring pens and sometimes a blunted ruler for parallel lines. Wax was sometimes added to the paper to resist the ink, giving a luminescence to some of the backgrounds. In an essay on 'Hatching', Lord wrote; "The editing and selection of gap-making is fundamental to drawing… A picture is made up of a balancing between the making, the removing, and the not-making of marks."
Lord has been a prolific illustrator for nearly fifty years as well as teaching illustration at Brighton Art College. His past work includes an album cover for Deep Purple's 'The Book of Taliesyn' in 1968 and book illustrations to 'The Giant Jam Sandwich' in 1972 and 'The Nonsense Verse' by Edward Lear in 1984, both published by Jonathan Cape. He still illustrates, working now with the Inky Parrott Press on Lewis Carroll's 'Alice in Wonderland'.
Randolph Caldecott, 'The Frogs Desiring a King'
'The Frogs Desiring a King'
Engravings by J.D. Cooper
From 'Some of Aesop's fables with modern instances'
Published by Macmillan, London.
National Art Library Pressmark: 60.G.5
This book combines artist Randolph Caldecott's (1846-1886) love of animals with his ability to pick out the humorous side of human behaviour. Caldecott was an internationally famous children's book illustrator. Children looked forward to his books of nursery rhymes, which came out every Christmas between 1878 and 1884. They were published in colour by Edmund Evans.
By 1884 Randolph Caldecott's rhymes had sold a staggering total of 867,000 between them and made him famous. Caldecott also drew many hunting scenes and wrote witty captions to accompany his drawings of the people and places he visited.
Jan van Vianen, centre-left
Jan van Vianen
Centre-left, 'Ranae Regem Petierunt' (The Frogs Desiring a King)
Etching and engraving
From 'Phaedri Augusti liberti Fabularum Aesopiarum' by David van Hoogstraten
Published by Francisci Halmae, Amsterdam
National Art Library Pressmark: G.28.Z.13
Phaedrus (about 15 BC - about AD 50) is thought to have been a Macedonian slave freed by the Roman emperor Augustus. The writer Avianus says that he wrote five books of fables, verse forms of those referred to as 'Aesop's' fables. Phaedrus added anecdotes drawn from daily life and history.
Prose fables derived from Phaedrus were very popular in the Middle Ages. Of several versions, one called the 'Romulus' is the largest. Apparently dating to the 10th century but based on an even earlier version, it was the source of almost all medieval Latin fables in prose and verse. A 12th century verse version was popular even into the Renaissance.
Walter Crane, 'King Log & King Stork' (The Frogs Desiring a King)
'King Log & King Stork' (The Frogs Desiring a King)
Colour wood-engraved by Edmund Evans
From 'The baby's own Aesop: being the fables condensed in rhyme', adapted from William James Linton.
Published by Frederick Warne, London.
National Art Library Pressmark: 60.C.108
This image comes from a toy-book designed by Walter Crane (1845-1915) and printed by Edmund Evans (1826-1905) using colour wood-engraving. Crane imitated the highly developed methods of Japanese colour woodblock printing, recently discovered by Europeans, which Evans reproduced.
Edmund Evans (1826-1905) is one of the best-known European colour wood-engravers of the 19th century. The care he took with colours attracted well-known illustrators like Crane to work with him, including Kate Greenaway and Randolph Caldecott. He used a new invention, photography, to transfer illustrators' work onto the woodblocks, making reproduction easier than copying.
Johannes Zainer, 'Von Den Fröschen' (The Frogs Desiring a King)
'Von Den Fröschen' (The Frogs Desiring a King)
Wood-cut illustration from 'Vita Aesopi fabulatoris'
Published by Anton Sorg in Augsburg
National Art Library Pressmark: 86.B.2
Publisher Anton Sorg copied these woodcut illustrations from an earlier fable book published in Ulm by Johann Zainer in 1476. Anton Sorg was a major printer in Augsburg at that time.
Zainer's book was one of the earliest printed illustrated Aesops. He paid block-cutters to make the woodcuts. The illustrations were so successful that other printers like Sorg copied them. Copies were made either by cutting new woodblocks, as in Sorg's book, or by pasting a printed image onto a new woodblock and cutting around the lines - this would make the copy a mirror-image of the original.
Wenceslaus Hollar, 'Of the Frogs Desiring a King'
'Of the Frogs Desiring a King'
Etching from 'The fables of Aesop paraphras'd in verse' by John Ogilby
Printed by Thomas Roycroft for John Ogilby in London
National Art Library Pressmark: CLE.W.10
Although his reputation lies mainly in his topographical and architectural etchings, Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677) is considered the first artist working in England to view book illustration as an independent art form, and this effect can be seen in his Aesop illustrations, which show a fresh approach to interpreting the story. Publisher John Ogilby (1600-1676) employed Hollar to provide new illustrations for his second edition of The Fables of Aesop , published in 1665.
Václav (Wenceslaus or Wenzel) Hollar was an etcher-engraver from Prague who worked for booksellers in London from 1652. Along with Francis Barlow, he was one of the pre-eminent etchers working in Britain in the 17th century. An enormous number of Hollar's plates - around 2700 - survive.
Jeremiah Cliff, owner of the book in about 1711
Jeremiah Cliff, owner of the book in about 1711
'The Frogs Chuse a King' (The Frogs Desiring a King)
In a copy of 'Fables of Aesop and other eminent mythologists' by Roger L'Estrange, 1708
Printed for R. Sare in London
National Art Library Pressmark: Safe 6.A.10
What makes this early 18th century English edition of Aesop's Fables special is the complete series of illustrations painted on the margins throughout by its first owner, Jeremiah Cliff, within a few years of the publication date.
Jeremiah Cliff has recently been identified as an apothecary living in the town of Tenterden, in Kent. Apothecaries performed the functions of modern-day pharmacists, but also traded in other goods including artists' pigments, which might suggest why Cliff took up painting as a hobby.
Though amateur in style, his images are full of detail and humour, as well as observations of daily life. He has a feel for page design, and the placement of his figures within the tiny spaces available is careful and often witty. He also uses compositional motifs found in published fable illustrations, and his marginal notes cross-refer to another edition of the Fables: clearly he was a cultivated person, perhaps with a large library of his own.