Bone Players

On the left side you see a detail from an illustration by Henry Holiday to Lewis Carroll’s tragicomedy The Hunting of the Snark. I marked five possible references by Henry Holiday to a painting by William Sidney Mount.

On the right side you see William Sidney Mount’s painting The Bone Player (1856) in mirror view.

(In Holiday’s and Swain’s illustration you see a little white spot which seems to correspond with a reflection of light from adrinking glass in William Sidney’s painting. For some time I thought Holiday and Swain intentionally a inserted white spot which looks like an error into their illustration. But probably that white spot is an error on the electrotyped metal plate used for printing.)

Mount painted The Bone Player after receiving a commission from the printers Goupil and Company for two pictures of African-American musicians to be lithographed for the European market. These became the last in a series of five life-size likenesses of musicians that Mount executed between 1849 and 1856.

Could Henry Holiday have seen that lithograph (e.g. like the one by Jean-Baptiste Adolphe Lafosse) during he illustrated Lewis Carroll’s Snark?  The lithographs were promoted by London, Goupil & Cie in London in the year 1875 when Goupil & Cie took over Holloway & Sons and their salerooms ( I don’t know whether the original painting was exhibited there as well.

Besides that source, Henry Holiday used several other pictorial sources for his illustrations to “The Hunting of the Snark” (Not plagiarism, but for construction of pictorial puzzles paralleling the textual puzzles in Lewis Carroll’s Snark poem).

The chair depicted in Holiday’s illustration might have been inspired by a chair which Holiday saw in Carroll’s photos of Alfred Tennyson and his son Hallam Tennison.

Not only Henry Holiday, but also Lewis Carroll cold have been inspired by Sidney’s painting:

513    He was black in the face, and they scarcely could trace
514        The least likeness to what he had been:
515    While so great was his fright that his waistcoat turned white –
516        A wonderful thing to be seen!

517    To the horror of all who were present that day.
518        He uprose in full evening dress,
519    And with senseless grimaces endeavoured to say
520        What his tongue could no longer express.

521    Down he sank in a chair — ran his hands through his hair —
522        And chanted in mimsiest tones
523    Words whose utter inanity proved his insanity,
524        While he rattled a couple of bones

Acknowledgment: Already in 2012, a contemporary illustrator of The Hunting of the Snark (as a graphic novel) guided me to Mount’s painting. I found that painting depicting a bone player in Mahendra Singh‘s blog, where he wrote about the bone ratteling Banker and a “reference to Mister Bones, a stock character in Victorian minstrel”. (I think that there also could be a reference by Carroll to Victorian blackface minstrelsy.) Mahendra is a professional illustrator who not only is one of the few curageous and curious Snark hunters, but also (like Holiday) a very gifted architect of Snark conundrums in his own right. Just look at his own illustrations to his Snark edition (2010).


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2017-09-13, updated: 2022-08-06

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