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Blanche McManus, an early illustrator of the Rubaiyat

October 27, 2021

The American born artist, Blanche McManus, was one of the earliest illustrators of Edward FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, and, as far as is known, she is the first woman to have done this.  The first set of her illustrations was published in the United States right at the end of the nineteenth century, and versions of this work continued to be published right up until the 1920’s, mainly by London-based publishers De La More Press.  A second set of illustrations by McManus first appeared in the early 1900’s under the imprint of L C Page of Boston, Mass.

Blanche McManus from Mansfield and Wessels edition 1899

This much about Blanche McManus is well known.  But, until recently, there was little other information about this artist’s life or works.  Now, thanks to in-depth research by Bob Forrest, we have learnt a good deal more about an important contributor to Rubaiyat history.  We know, in particular, that she was most probably born in 1865, and she died in 1935.  Both events took place in the deep South of the USA, and both her parents came from plantation owning families.  As a young adult she moved north to work as an artist, and in 1898 she married a New York based publisher, Francis Mansfield.  His firm, Mansfield and Wessels, published her first work on the Rubaiyat, in a series of editions, starting in 1898.

Bob Forrest has documented the various versions of the Rubaiyat illustrations produced by McManus, and, in his full article (see link below), he provides many images of this work. He also summarises much of her other work as an artist, including illustrations for FitzGerald’s translation of Salaman and Absal, as well as for children’s books and Rudyard Kipling’s poems.  Bob provides an interesting outline of the life of the artist and her husband from around 1900 when they spent much time in Europe, particularly in France, and North Africa.  Mansfield worked for some time as an American diplomat and together they produced a successful series of travel books.  It was not until the 1920’s that McManus returned to live in the United States.

Altogether Bob Forrest has provided us with another very informative picture of the way the Rubaiyat stimulated artistic work from the late nineteenth century.  Our thanks to him for sharing his research with us all.  The full article on Blanche McManus can be seen on http://www.bobforrestweb.co.uk/The_Rubaiyat/N_and_Q/Blanche_McManus/Blanche_McManus.htm .

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