Heath Robinson - the art of the contraption

Heath Robinson - the art of the contraption

William Heath Robinson was a visual artist known for the humorous drawings that resulted from his fertile and inventive imagination. His name entered the language as early as 1912, and is still deployed today, when 'Heath Robinson' is used to describe the kind of outrageous contraptions that featured in many of his illustrations and cartoons.

Heath Robinson was born in Finsbury Park, North London, in 1872. Both his father Thomas, and his older brothers, were book illustrators. Heath Robinson illustrated books of fairy tales and Shakespeare stories early in his career.

During the First World War, he drew large numbers of cartoons, depicting ever-more unlikely secret weapons being used by the combatants. This was the beginning of his association with humorous illustrations of whimsically elaborate machines, vastly over-engineered, to achieve simple objectives. He continued to explore the absurdities of modern life through his cartoons of imaginary contraptions after the war - having fun with modern electric appliances and Art Deco flats, amongst other subjects..

One of his most famous series of illustrations was that which accompanied the first Professor Branestawm book written by Norman Hunter in 1933. The stories told of the eponymous professor who was brilliant, eccentric and forgetful provided a perfect backdrop for Robinson's drawings.

Aside from his commercial work, Heath Robinson was a wonderful landscape artist, usually in watercolours.

In 2016 a museum celebrating the work of Heath Robinson, and other illustrators, opened in Pinner, where he lived between 1908-1918.

Further reading

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