Jessie Marion King
(1875–1949)
Jessie M. King was an individualist with a gift for decorative linear expression. Her free spirit is woven in the gossamer line work of her medieval and fantasy illustrations.

Childhood

Born 20 March 1875, Jessie Marion King was the daughter of Mary Ann Anderson and Reverend James W. King of New Kilpatrick Parish. King showed early signs of creativity as a youngster which were promptly squashed by her father. She indulged her passion while in school, hiding the results in the hedges on her way home, fearful that her mother would tear them up.

Education

Somehow, King was able to convince her father to allow her to attend the Glasgow School of Art. It was the Headmaster Francis Newbery who was quick to see that forcing King to endure the full academic curriculum would do her more harm than good. He assigned her independent study which allowed her to develop her own style through the drawing of plants, a task that she enjoyed immensely. During her school days, she shared a studio with classmate Helen Paxton Brown and the two became close friends.

She won a travelling scholarship from G.S.A., and traveled to France and Italy. It was in Italy that she encountered and was influenced by the paintings of Botticelli.

Professional Career

King’s long and varied professional career began when, in 1899, a Berlin department store owner commissioned her to design a range of items, requesting that they be done in the ‘new Scottish style’. Book design and illustration dominated her early work, but she spread her talents out over many areas— posters, bookplates, book covers, jewelry, ceramics, wallpaper, fabrics, murals, interior design, and costumes. In 1902, her efforts as a book designer were recognized with a gold-medal in the International Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Turin for the book L’Evangile de l’Enfance.

Starting that same year, King taught Book Decoration at G.S.A., influencing others with her sense of design, until her marriage in 1908 to fellow artist and Glasgow School of Art alumni Ernest Archibald Taylor, who was just as versatile as she was. It is interesting to note that, despite common convention, King retained her maiden name after her marriage, no doubt because of the success she had already attained. Their only daughter, Merle, was born in 1909.

In 1910, King and Taylor moved to Paris where they lived until the outbreak of World War I. Taylor was a professor at the Studio School of Drawing and Painting, and, together with King, they ran a studio gallery called the Shealing Atelier of Oil and Watercolour Painting, Design and the Applied Arts. They spent their summers on the Isle of Arran, where they had spent their honeymoon, and ran a summer sketching school there.

Returning to Scotland, they settled in the artist community of Kirkcudbright, where King established ‘Green Gate Close’, an important center for women artists. One writer reported, 

“Artists and art lovers of all sorts find their way to the Green Gate, and . . . it is here . . . in the Close women artists have settled down or come as birds of passage with the spring and summer.” 
King was the driving force in the close and maintained a studio there where she worked on ceramics. Sometimes, she and Taylor would collaborate on furniture or interior design. King experimented with batik, a wax-resist technique that she learned while in Paris, applying it to fabric and clothing. She was instrumental in introducing the technique to Scotland by giving classes at Green Gate. Many of her scarf designs were bought by Liberty’s.

King loved children and her pen was always eager to entertain them. They adored her as well. She must have been quite a sight for them with her wide-brimmed black hat, gauntlet gloves, silver-buckled shoes and long black cloak, appearing to them much like a good witch, fairy-godmother, or even Mother Goose! 

She died on 3 August 1949 at Kirkcudbright. The Scottish Arts Council held an exhibit of King's work in 1971, followed by an exhibit in 1976 by the National Library of Scotland. Sotheby’s held a sale of King’s and Taylor’s work, on 21 June 1977 at the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society in Glasgow, which realized some surprising prices. While the average King drawing sold between £100 and £300, a lovely ink on vellum bookplate of hers sold for £2,000! It is also interesting to note that her work commanded more attention than Taylor’s.

Influences, Style & Technique

At first glance, King’s work seems to have been greatly influenced by the Art Nouveau artist, Aubrey Beardsley. But rather, it was the “Glasgow Style” or “Glasgow School” (not to be confused with the Glasgow School of Art), that shaped her approach to art. The “Glasgow Style” is the consummation of the Arts and Crafts movement and Art Nouveau with a Scottish bias. It encompassed all areas of life through both the fine arts and the applied arts. Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the leader of the movement is described as having “innovated a geometric style of composition by tempering floral and curvilinear elements with strong rectilinear structure.” King molded these ideas into her own personal statement, adding romantic overtones to her medieval fantasy illustrations. 

King’s early work was executed in a ‘wirework style’. Her meticulous pen-and-ink drawings were rendered with indian ink and a fine Gillott crow-quill nib on an 8” x 11” sheet of vellum, the type used in the Middle Ages for illumination work made from animal skin, delicately colored and tinted, occasionally, adding touches of silver. Much of her work includes floral borders reminiscent of metal work.

While living in Paris, King was significantly influenced by The Ballet Russes and their costume creator Leon Bakst. His designs for the ballet were exotic with dazzling color and changed the course of modern theatre design. King’s exposure to Bakst is reflected in the changes we see in her work around this time. It moves from linear to a broader line with brightly colored washes. Unfortunately, for a time, she used colored inks which faded over time.

Later, while in Kirkcudbright, she turned to loose vividly colored landscapes. King attributed the looseness and boldness of these paintings to her short-sightedness. They were not well received by critics when first exhibited.

Children’s Books Illustrated

  • Arnold, The Light of Asia, 1898.

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  • Mitchell, A. Gordon, translator, Jeptha, Alex Gardner, Paisley, 1902.

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  • Evans, Sebastian, The High History of the Holy Graal, London, J.M. Dent, New York, E.P. Dutton, 1903. 

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  • Fitzgerald, Edward, Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, London, George Routledge, New York, E. P. Dutton, 1903.

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  • Speilmann, Mrs. M. H., Littledom Castle and other Tales, Routledge, 1903.

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  • Morris, William, The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems, London and New York, John Lane, 1904.

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  • Milton, John, Comus. A Masque, London, George Routledge, 1906.

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  • Poems of Spenser, Jack, Edinburgh, c. 1906.

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  • Budding Life, 1906.

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  • Poems of Shelley, 1907.

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  • Keats, John, Isabella or The Pot of Basil, Edinburgh and London, T. H. Foulis, n.d. (circa l907).

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  • Mantegazza, P., The Legend of Flowers, 1908.

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  • Dwellings of An Old World Town, 1909.

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  • The Grey City of the North, Edinburgh and London, T. N. Foulis, 1910.

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  • The City of the West, 1911.

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  • Ancambeau, E., The Book of Bridges, 1911.

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  • Ancambeau, E., Ponts de Paris, 1912.

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  • Hogg, James, Songs of the Ettrick Shepherd, 1912.

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  • Wilde, Oscar, A House of Pomegranates, London, Methuen, 1915.

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  • The Little White Town of Never-Weary, London, George Harrap, nd. (1917)

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  • Good King Wenceslas, 1919.

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  • Kiplng, Rudyard, L'Habitation Forcée, Paris, Rene Kieffer, 1921.

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  • How Cinderella was able to go to the ball, London, G. T. Foulis, nd. (c. 1924)

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  • Mummy’s Bedtime Storybook, London, Cecil Palmer, nd (1929).

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  • Whose London, n.d. (c.1930).

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  • All the Year Round, Collins, c. 1931.

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  • Corder, Arthur, Our Lady’s Garland, De La More Press, 1934.

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  • Kirkcudbright, 1934.

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  • Drummond, Florence, The Fringes of Paradise, London, Frederick Muller, 1935.

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  • Steele, I., The Enchanted Capital of Scotland, 1945.

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  • McCardel, J., The Parish of New Kilpatrick, 1949.

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  • Shelley, Selected Poems, Caxton, nd.

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  • Whose Land? The Mortals’ Country, London, Traffic Advertising Agent, nd.

This is a tipped-in autochrome plate from the rare 
1908 special summer issue of the British art periodical,
"The Studio,"  This plate, a portrait of the artist and
illustrator Jessie M. King, is by J. Craig Annan.

Evans, Sebastian, The
High History of the Holy
Graal, London, J.M. Dent,
New York, E.P. Dutton,
1903. 
Morris, William, The
Defence of Guenevere,
London and New York,
John Lane, 1904.
Morris, William, The
Defence of Guenevere,
London and New York,
John Lane, 1904.
Wilde, Oscar, A House of
Pomegranates, London,
Methuen, 1915.
Bookplate for E. A. Taylor,
1900.
Bookcover, 1899.
Menu cover, 1917.
Sketch of Jessie M. King
by Helen Paxton Brown,
1902.
Evans, Sebastian, The
High History of the Holy
Graal, London, J.M. Dent,
New York, E.P. Dutton,
1903.
Evans, Sebastian, The
High History of the Holy
Graal, London, J.M. Dent,
New York, E.P. Dutton,
1903.
The Frog Prince, Panel for a child's room designed for Musée Galliera Exposition de l'Art pour l'Enfance, Paris, 1913.

Sources

Beaumont, Robin de, "Towards A Check-List of Books Illustrated by Jessie M. King 1875-1949", The Private Library, Second series, Volume 10:3, Autumn 1977. 
Burkhauser, Judith, editor, Glasgow Girls: Women in Art and Design 1880-1920, Edinburgh, Canongate, 1990, Cape May, New Jersey, Red Ochre Press, 1993.
Houfe, Simon, Dictionary of British Book Illustrators, 1800-1914, Baron, 1978.
Houfe, Simon, The Dictionary of 19th Century British Book Illustrators, Suffolk, Antique Collector's Club, 1996.
Meggs, Philip B., A History of Graphic Design, Third Edition, New York, John Wiley, 1998.
Scottish Arts Council, The, Jessie M King 1875-1949, 1971. Exhibition Catalogue.
© 1999–2002 Denise Ortakales
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This page last updated on August 2002.

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