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John Leech, illustrator

This week marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of British illustrator John Leech (Aug. 29, 1817). As a teenager, Leech studied medicine, but when his father’s business failed, the young man turned to his first love – drawing – to help support his family. Leech’s first success was producing humorous lithographs in the 1830s. Leech was also adept at etching on steel. He joined another famed Victorian artist, George Cruikshank, as an illustrator for Bentley’s Miscellany, and illustrated a number of books. Leech’s career took off in 1841 when he began contributing illustrations to the new humor magazine Punch. Over the next twenty years he produced hundreds of sporting and domestic illustrations for Punch, as well as for the periodicals Once a Week and The Illustrated London News. Leech also illustrated numerous books, the most famous of which is Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843).

Special Collections owns many examples of Leech’s work in magazines and books, as well as several original sketches. The illustration shown here, “The Showman expostulating with his Monkey,” is taken from the book Merrie England in the Olden Time by George Daniel, published in 1842.

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