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Gilbert James (1865-1941) – New research provides important insights into the life and work of a major illustrator

May 12, 2015

RFjamesq75Most people who have browsed through illustrated copies of the Rubaiyat will have come across the work of Gilbert James. He was one of the earliest and most prolific of the artists to take up the challenge of providing illustrations for FitzGerald’s verses and his work was reprinted many times in different forms during the 20th century. But until now, very little has been known about Gilbert James the man; even the dates of his birth and death were unclear. And the chronology of his work on the Rubaiyat and other volumes has been very confused.

Now, thanks to the efforts of Bob Forrest, we are in ignorance no longer. Bob has carried a major investigation into the life and work of Gilbert James, results of which are accessible via the link The article deals first with James’ work on the Rubaiyat illustrations, giving a clear guide to the different versions and the complex links between those published in book form and those in the magazine The Sketch and on menus of The Omar Khayyam Club. There is an extensive gallery of illustrations on the site, well linked to the text.

RFgilbertjamesBob then goes on to tell something of James’ life history, from his birth in Liverpool to his death at the age of 75 in a mental hospital in Surrey. The accompanying images include a photo portrait of James, the first we have seen. The article concludes with a full discussion of other works illustrated by James, and some of the differing views about this artist’s work. There are also extensive notes following the text which highlight many other points of historical interest.

We must all be very grateful to Bob Forrest for the energy and analysis that he has put into finding and then sorting out so much new information about this important illustrator. Although Gilbert James is not our personal favourite among the artists who interpreted the Rubaiyat, he had a major influence on the development of illustration in the Edwardian period, and his work and his history deserve to be better known.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 16, 2016 10:34 am

    This website was… how do I say it? Relevant!! Finally I’ve found something which
    helped me. Cheers!


  1. More about Gilbert James and what happened to the artwork of his illustrations for the Rubaiyat | Omar Khayyam Rubaiyat
  2. New booklets on Rubaiyat Artists from Bob Forrest | Omar Khayyam Rubaiyat

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