Click on the above pic to visit our sister site Bear Alley Books

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Leonard Skeats

Robert J. Kirkpatrick

Leonard Skeats had hardly any profile as an illustrator, even though his illustrations appeared in at least 23 books (mainly children’s books) – he was, rather, a prolific and very talented painter, in oil and watercolour, and particularly well-known between 1900 and 1930 in Hampshire and the West Country.

He was born on 9 June 1874 in Southampton, and baptized, as Leonard Frank Skeats, at St. Luke’s Church, Southampton, on 26 July 1876. His father was Frank George Skeats (born in Southanpton in 1846), a clerk and draughtsman who later became an artist. His mother was Alice Emma, née Martin, born in Blandford, Dorset, in 1851. Having married in 1873, they had two sons, Leonard and Ernest Willington (born in 1875 – he later became a geologist and spent most of his life in Australia).

At the time of the 1871 census, Frank Skeats was still living with his widowed mother and three siblings at 8 Evan’s Terrace, Southampton, working as a clerk and draughtsman at the Ordnance Survey Office. Ten years later, the Skeats family was living at 3 Ludwell Cottages, Middle Street, Southanmpton, with Frank working as a bank clerk.

Leonard Skeats received his early education at Handel College, Southampton, although he was not initially destined for a career as an artist – in the 1891 census he was recorded living with his parents and brother at “Erene”, The Polygon, Southampton, working as a clerk for the Southampton Gas Company. In the mid-1890s, however, he began studying art at Hartley College (now Southampton University), where he was award an Art Master’s Certificate in September 1897, and from there he went on to the Royal College of Art School in South Kensington. He then went on to study under Jean Paul Laurens (President of the Paris Salon) and Benjamin Constant in Paris. Some local newspaper reports claim that he was awarded the Premier Prix at the Paris Salon in 1899, although his name does not appear in the list of exhibitors at that year’s Paris exhibition.

Prior to this, Skeats had already exhibited with the Southampton Art Society in 1897. The Hampshire Advertiser (25 September 1897) commented:
“On entering the gallery the visitor is immediately faced by a strikingly life-like portrait of Mr R.C. Hankinson, J.P., by Mr Leonard Skeats, and if one may be allowed to offer a suggestion it would be that this promising artist should devote the greater part of his undoubted talent to portrait painting, though his versatility is shown in a marked degree by the effective work introduced into the oil paintings, “The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds” and “the Ferry”.
In 1900/01 he spent some time in Clifton, Bristol, painting portraits and exhibiting with the Bristol Fine Arts Academy and the Cheltenham and County Fine Arts Society. He subsequently moved around the country, being recorded as a visitor at an address in Fulham, London, in the 1901 census, and between 1902 and 1910 exhibiting at the Queen’s Park Museum and Art Gallery in Manchester, Bath’s Victoria Gallery, the Sheffield Society of Artists, the Bath Society of Artists, the Southampton Art Society, the Walker Gallery in London, the Surrey Art Circle (he was elected a member in 1905), the Stanley Art Club in Croydon, the Cheltenham Municipal Art Gallery, and the Derby Corporation Art Gallery. He also exhibited at the Royal Academy of Art in 1901, 1903, 1904, 1906, 1908 and 1909.

In particular, he was accepting portrait commissions from all over the country, although he also painted landscapes and genre pictures. (He now has at least 11 paintings, mainly portraits, held in the UK’s public collections).

On 23 September 1903, at St. Mark’s Church, South Stoneham, Hampshire, he married Caroline Emilie Rummens, born in France on 7 January 1870 (although she was baptized in Clapham, London, on 19 October 1870), the daughter of a wealthy cloth merchant (who, when he died in 1914, left an estate valued at almost £3 million in today’s terms). They remained in Southampton for a while, both acting with the Southampton Amateur Dramatic Society, before moving to 3 Camden Road, Croydon, Surrey, in 1904.

Skeats’s career, or perhaps a better word would be sideline, as an illustrator appears to have begun in 1900, when he illustrated a re-issue of a novel by Anne E. Keeling published by Robert Culley. He went on to provide illustrations for several more books published by Culley, and a handful for the Religious Tract Society. Most of his work, for both publishers, was for new editions of children’s books, where the original black and white illustrations were replaced by colour plates. (Note that most of these re-issues were undated, and establishing their year of publication is difficult). Despite his being a fairly well-known painter, his work for publishers was very poorly advertised, with hardly any advertisements carrying his name, and there appear to be no reviews of or comments about his work in the books he illustrated.

It is also a little surprising that, given his obvious talent, he did not provide illustrations for more books. He may have been too busy, with commissions and producing paintings for sale, to undertake much other work, or he was reluctant to accept the fees offered by publishers. He may also have benefited from his father-in-law’s wealth, and was rich enough not to have to rely on illustrative work.

Unlike most of his contemporary illustrators, his work hardly ever appeared in periodicals – his only known contributions were to The Sphere in 1906 and Cassell’s Magazine in 1907.

Having moved to Croydon, he joined the Croydon Swimming Club and he also became a member of the Addiscombe Lodge of the Freemasons (having previously been a member of the Southampton Lodge). By 1910 he had moved again, this time to 86 Adelaide Road, Hampstead. A few years later, he moved to The Studio, Church Street, Mere, Wiltshire, and in 1917 he briefly served as a Private in the Army Service Corps with the Royal Garrison Artillery. In the early 1920s he moved to Bath, living at 10 Portland Place, where he became an active member of the Bath Society of Artists, and, in the late 1920s, a member of the Rotary Club of Bath.

He appears to have retired from painting in the 1920s – in the 1939 Register, living at 6 Brock Street, Bath, he gave his occupation as “English SUFI Movement Representative (unpaid)”.  He died in Bath four years later, at a nursing home in Church Street, on 13 September 1943, leaving an estate valued at £6,675 (just under £300,000 in today’s terms). His wife died in Bath on 28 March 1956, leaving £17,292.

While his contributions to children’s literature as an illustrator can be regarded as minor, it is a pity that he wasn’t called upon, or felt unable, to do more. His work was generally of a very high quality, and carried an artistic dimension that was lacking in many of his contemporaries.


Books illustrated by Leonard Skeats
Andrew Golding: A Tale of the Great Plague by Anne E. Keeling, Robert Culley, 1900 (re-issue)
Nine Famous Crusades of the Middle Ages by Anne E. Keeling, Robert Culley, 1900 (re-issue)
Five Brave Hearts by Edith E. Rhodes, Robert Culley, 1900(?) (re-issue)
Algonquin Indian Tales by Egerton Ryerson Young, Robert Culley, 1903
The Diary of Evelyn John with an introduction by Austin Dobson, Macmillan & Co., 1906
Life and Adventures Beyond Jordan by G. Robinson Lees, C.H. Kelly, 1907
Tessie’s Trust by Amy Whipple, Religious Tract Society, 1908
Mr Marmalade’s Secret by Alice M. Page, J. Williams Butcher, 1908
Charlie Lucken: At School and College by H.C. Adams, Hodder & Stoughton, 1909 (re-issue)
The Sister Crusoes by Ernest Protheroe, Robert Culley, 1909
From the Memoirs of a Minister from France by Stanley Weyman, Cassell & Co., 1909 (re-issue)
Chords That Were Broken by William Henry Harding, Religious Tract Society, 1910
Sprattie and the Dwarf, or The Shining Stairway by Nellie Cornwall, Robert Culley, 1910(?) (re-issue)
Boys Will Be Boys by George Sargent, Religious Tract Society, 1910(?) (re-issue)
Grand Gilmore by Reese Rockwell, Robert Culley, 1910(?) (re-issue)
Lady Ju by Charles Aver, Epworth Press, 1911
Castle Dangerous of Canada by E.M. Field, Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., 1913
That Scholarship Boy by Emma Leslie, Religious Tract Society, 1913(?) (re-issue)
Raymond Theed: A Story of Five Years by Elsie Kendall, Robert Culley, 1913(?) (re-issue)
The Boys of Highfield, or The Hero of Chancery House by H. Frederick Charles, Religious Tract Society, 1914(?)
The Orphans of Merton Hall by Emily Brodie, Religious Tract Society, 1914 (re-issue)
Winter Adventures of Three Boys in the Great Lone Land by Egerton Ryerson Young, Robert Culley, 1915(?) (re-issue)
More Than Conqueror, or A Boy’s Temptation by Harriette E. Burch, Religious Tract Society, 1915(?) (re-issue)

No comments:

Post a Comment