Frank Godwin, Artist and Illustrator

June 18, 2015 Spotlight 6

Illustrator: Frank Godwin
If you enjoy classic illustrated children’s books, you’re probably familiar with the work of N. C. Wyeth.  But have you ever heard of Frank Godwin?  Godwin was an illustrator, commercial artist and comic strip artist who worked from around 1915 through 1959.  Between 1920 and 1931, he illustrated a number of books for publishers David Mackay and John Winston, including King Arthur and His Knights, Tales of Shakespeare, Treasure Island, Kidnapped, Robin Hood, The Blue Fairy Book, and The Book of Courage, among others.


King Arthur and His Knights, illustrated by Frank Godwin

In his color illustrations for these books, he favored rich, tonal colors; his style is somewhat reminiscent of both N. C. Wyeth and Maxfield Parrish but is distinctly his own.  The illustrations from King Arthur are among my favorites; I even framed several of them (taken from a book which had lost its cover and was completely falling apart) for my living room.

Uther and Ygraine (Frank Godwin, from King Arthur and His Knights)
Godwin was equally skilled with pen-and-ink.  Early in his career, he shared a studio and became friends with James Montgomery Flagg, and his drawing style was influenced by both Flagg and “Gibson Girl” artist Charles Dana Gibson.  In turn, he influenced other artists, including Frank Frazetta’s early pen-and-ink work. Here’s one of my favorite of Godwin’s pen-and-ink illustrations from King Arthur and His Knights. Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. speculates that the illustrations from this book may have influenced Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant comic strip, which debuted about 10 years later.
“Come not near me” (Frank Godwin, from King Arthur and His Knights)


The entire set of illustrations from King Arthur and His Knights can be seen on here on The Golden Age website.  (If you poke around the site a bit, you’ll also find pages for the other books illustrated by Frank Godwin, as well as other illustrators like N. C. Wyeth.  Scroll down and look in the left side column for “labels”, and click on whichever artist interests you.)
Joan of Arc (frontispiece for The Book of Courage, illus. by Frank Godwin)

Bottom and fairies from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’
(Frank Godwin, from Tales from Shakespeare)

Little John and Robin Hood

(Frank Godwin, from Robin Hood)

Three Princesses (Frank Godwin, from The Blue Fairy Book)
Francis Drake (Frank Godwin, from The Book of Courage)

In addition to his book illustrations, Frank Godwin was the creator of the syndicated cartoon Connie (1927-44), which featured a liberated and surprisingly modern heroine. He took over Roy Powers in 1938, and in 1948 took over Rusty Riley after the original cartoonist’s death.  Godwin was also a prolific magazine and advertising artist in the days before photographs took over both venues. He did a whole series of ads for Texaco, including both pen-and-ink drawings and oil paintings.

The cast of characters from ‘Rusty Riley’,
a syndicated comic strip by Frank Godwin

Lady’s Home Journal cover from 1919. Art by Frank Godwin
“Life on a U.S. Warship” – Texaco ad by Frank Godwin
“As the Petals” ad for Lazell (art by Frank Godwin)

In the interests of full disclosure: One of Godwin’s grandsons is my stepfather, which makes the artist my step-great-grandfather.  I never met him (he died before I was born), but I spent many happy weekends with my grandparents in the house and studio that he built in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. There he also had a large workshop, and enjoyed working with his hands. The photo below shows Godwin with a working, 4-foot-long model steam engine that he built, machining the parts himself. I’m told the train actually ran on a track in the garden, though it was long gone by the time my mother and I came into the family.

Frank Godwin (photo taken for a newspaper article;
print scanned & cleaned up by W. F. Godwin)

A younger Frank Godwin
Frank Godwin died in 1959. His work has been growing in popularity in recent years, and there is considerable demand for his original comic art as well as his magazine, advertising, and book illustration work.

Sources and other links for Frank Godwin:

6 Responses to “Frank Godwin, Artist and Illustrator”

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      I grew up steeped in these pictures, especially the King Arthur ones because I was a huge Arthurian nerd. (To some extent I still am.) But I think even if I hadn’t, I would recognize them as something special. I’ve never understood why Godwin didn’t get the name recognition of N. C. Wyeth, but it’s probably because he did a lot of commercial art, and that tends to make the art world look down their noses in disdain. He illustrated far fewer books than Wyeth, but the illustrations he did are really good – especially if you can find early editions, printed when the plates were still new and fresh. (Over repeated printings, plates wear down and you lose a lot of the fine detail.)

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      He was a terrific artist, and very versatile. His paintings remind me sometimes of a mix of N.C. Wyeth and Maxfield Parrish. And it’s fun to look at the Rusty Riley art; he obviously worked from photographs because both horses and people show up in the same poses from time to time.

  1. R_Hunt @ View From My Home

    Love this, Lark. How lucky were you to enter a family with such a talented illustrator with a connection to famous books 🙂 I love the detailed expression of the right-hand bystander in the first picture shown, King Arthur and his Knights. He expressed a whole paragraph of emotions on that one face. And as someone who has a soft spot for whimsy, the Three Princesses and the Ladies Home Journal cover are marvelous. Thanks for sharing and giving me a smile today!
    R_Hunt @ View From My Home recently posted…Weekly Wrap-Up 6/20 -6/21/15My Profile

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      I really do love Frank Godwin’s art, and I think I would still love it even if I didn’t have a personal tie to him. But it is pretty cool! My stepdad has a drawing of himself and his father, done when he was maybe four or six, by his grandfather, plus a few paintings and some of the original Rusty Riley strips. I’m glad you enjoyed the artwork!

      Coincidentally, my mother’s father was also a cartoonist, though he was younger than Frank Godwin. He did a lot of political cartoons in the 30s and 40s, and like Godwin, took over an existing comic strip when the original cartoonist left – though in his case, he only did the art, not the story.