Saturday, March 31, 2018

Louis Gunnis


Louis Gunnis was a talented and versatile artist who could turn his hand to a variety of forms, and while he illustrated only a handful of children’s books (he was best-known for his work in comics and story papers) his life is worth recounting, especially in view of his tragic death.

He was born in Margate, Kent, on 25 November 1862 (and not in Clapham, London, in 1864, as most other sources suggest) and christened Louis James Gunnis. His father, James William Gunnis (born in Portsmouth in 1832) was a musician in Queen Victoria’s private band, having entered the royal household in 1856. He had married Ellen Adams, born in Margate in 1838, in 1860, and Louis was the second of their seven children, all born between 1861 and 1878.

At the time of the 1871 census, the family was living at 16 Sharsted Street, Newington, London. Louis was subsequently educated at St. Olave’s School, Southwark, and at the age of 15 was apprenticed to a wood engraver. In 1882, while still living with his parents, at 4 Mervan Road, Brixton, he was awarded a free studentship at the Lambeth School of Art, where he abandoned engraving in favour of drawing, and became a member of the Lambeth Sketching Club.

His career as an illustrator began in the late 1880s, when he started contributing to The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News and The Illustrated London News (which published one of his best-known cartoons, featuring a maid scrubbing a cello). Between 1890 and 1900 he worked for several other periodicals, including The Boy’s Own Paper, Young England, Judy, The Ludgate Monthly, The Idler, The Quiver, The English Illustrated Magazine, The Sketch, The Sphere, The Windsor Magazine and The Lady’s Pictorial. He also exhibited several times at the Royal Academy between 1887 and 1897. For much of this time he was renting an attic studio at 6, and then 12, New Court, Carey Street, before moving to 2 Addison Studios, Blythe Road, Hammersmith, in 1900, while still living in Brixton with his parents in Mervan Road.

In 1898, at Fulham Registry Office, he married Dorothea Lottie Bradbury, born in Acton in 1871, the daughter of Henry Bradbury, a dentist, and his wife Charlotte. They moved to 6 Shandon Road, Clapham, and then to 9 Shakespeare Road, Brixton. They went on to have three children: Dorothy Winifred in 1900; Ellen Brenda in 1903, and Alice Irene Phyllis in 1905. Sadly Gunnis’s wife died shortly after Alice’s birth, and she was buried in Norwood Cemetery on 4 December 1905.

Having illustrated a couple of books in the 1890s, in 1905 Gunnis began a long association with the author Alfred Walter Barrett, who wrote under the pseudonym of R. Andom. He illustrated ten of his books, including three of his “Troddles” books. They had presumably met at the offices of the publisher James Henderson, where Barrett was an editor, and Gunnis had been contributing cartoons and comic strips since around 1892. In particular, Gunnis was known for his work for Henderson’s The Boy’s Champion (1901-02), Little Folks (from 1907 onwards), and for the one penny series Bible Stories for Young Readers (from 1907 onwards).

In 1909 Gunnis joined the Hulton Press, and moved to Manchester. In the 1911 census he was recorded as a boarder at a small boarding house at 83 Yarburgh Street, Moss Side, while his daughters were being looked after by Eva Hudson, their guardian, at 1 Brunswick Villas, Herne Bay, Kent.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Gunnis returned to London, where he joined the Amalgamated Press, remaining there for the rest of his life. In an article in The Collector’s Digest in November 1990, Len Hawkey claimed that Gunnis contributed to at least 40 Amalgamated Press story papers – for example The Boy’s Friend, Dreadnought, The Union Jack, Young Britain, The Champion and The Rocket. In the mid-1920s he switched to comics, such as Lot o’ Fun, Chips, Tiger Tim’s Weekly, The Rainbow, Bubbles, Puck, Chuckles, Playbox, The Sunbeam, Playtime and My Favourite.

Other periodicals to which he contributed in the early 1900s included Cassell & Co.’s  Chums and C. Arthur Pearson’s The Royal Magazine. (He had earlier provided illustrations for Cassell & Co.’s World of Adventure series in the 1890s). He also provided illustrations for Darton’s Leading Strings and the Religious Tract Society’s Little Dots.

In 1920 Gunnis moved into 63 Tunley Road, Balham, the home of Alfred Walter Barrett, and stayed there briefly before moving to 71 Huron Road, Balham, in 1922. Four years later, he moved to 7 Ouseley Road, Battersea, and in the early1930s he moved to 214 Elmhurst Mansions, Elmhurst Street, Clapham. By 1935, he had moved to 30 King’s Road, Clapham.

In his Dictionary of British Comic Artists, Writers and Editors (The British Library, 1998) Alan Clark described Gunnis thus: “In appearance he was ramrod straight, with a fierce, bristling moustache; he was said to be gentlemanly with a lively sense of humour.”

He returned to painting in the 1930s, and had a painting accepted by the Royal Academy in 1938, although it was not exhibited. In the 1939 Register he was recorded at 30 King’s Avenue, still working as an artist, and living with a housekeeper, Elizabeth Runnacles (born in 1876).

He died when his house was destroyed by a German bomb early in the Second World War. The tragic nature of his death was revealed in the Probate Register for 1940, which recorded that he was “believed to have been killed through war operations on 14 September 1940 and whose dead body was found on 13 December 1940.” He was buried in Wandsworth Cemetery, his gravestone giving the date of his death as 15 September 1940. He left a small estate, of just £200 (presumably money in his bank account), with probate granted to his unmarried daughter Dorothy. His housekeeper survived the war, and died in Lambeth in 1953.

His third daughter, Alice, married Terry Wakefield, a fellow Amalgamated Press artist, and the son of George William (“Bill”) Wakefield, whom Gunnis had known from his days working for James Henderson, in 1935. She died in Richmond, Surrey, in 1999. Ellen Gunnis married in Barnstaple, Devon, in 1947, and died in 1976, while Dorothy died, unmarried, in Barnstaple in 1984.


Books illustrated by Louis Gunnis
Guy or Trusting as the Days Go By by Lizzie Joyce Tomlinson, Sunday School Union, 1887
The Enemies of Books by William Blade, Elliot Stock, 1896 (with H.E. Butler) (re-issue)
For Cross or Crescent: The Days of Richard the Lion-hearted by Gordon Stables, J.F. Shaw & Co., 1897
Self-Denial by Maria Edgeworth, W. & R. Chambers, 1899(?) (re-issue)
The Burglings of Tutt: Being Some Exploits in the Life of an Expert by R. Andom, Jarrold & Sons, 1905
Lighter Days with Troddles by R. Andom, Cassell & Co., 1907
The Enchanted Ship: A Story of Mystery with a Lot of Imagination by R. Andom, Cassell & Co., 1908
The Genial Rascal by R. Andom, Jarrold & Sons, 1909
The Magic Bowl and the Blue-Stone Ring by R. Andom, Jarrold & Sons, 1909
Our Flat by R. Andom, Cassell & Co., 1910
Neighbours of Mine by R. Andom, Stanley Paul & Co., 1912
Cheerful Craft by R. Andom, Stanley Paul & Co., 1912
Ralph Raymond by Ernest Masefield, Stanley Paul & Co., 1913
Bungay of Bandiloo: An Episode by Curtis Yorke, Jarrold & Sons, 1916(?) (re-issue)
The Same Old Troddles by R. Andom, Jarrold & Sons, 1919
Out and About With Troddles by R. Andom, Holden & Hardingham, 1920
The Luck of St. Boniface by L.C. Douthwaite, Jarrold & Sons, 1925

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