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William Henry Bradley

William Henry Bradley 1869–1962

After society witnessed the importance of drawing since the Civil War, this field flourished, brilliant stars such as Pyle and his contributions to the development of this field appeared, and his student Maxwell Parrish and his influence on other artists such as  William Henry Bradley.

William Henry Bradley

William H. Bradley was born on July 10, 1868. In Boston to Aaron Bradley and Sarah Rowland. William Henry Bradley was mainly self-taught as an artist. He began working in a printer's shop at the age of twelve in Ishpeming, Michigan, where his mother had moved in 1874 after his father's death.

In 1886, he moved to Chicago to begin his career as an artist. He soon found his forte as a pen-and-ink illustrator, and by 1890 his work appeared in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper and the Chicago trade journal, The Inland Printer.

Will H. Bradley did not have enough money to attend art classes during those early years in Chicago and, instead, received his instruction from contemporary magazines, libraries, and local bibliophiles.

He contributed to the growth of the graphic arts in the United States and influenced developments in illustration and layout practices in the book and periodical arts. Bradley began his career by working as a printer, from which he moved on to designing borders and illustrations for a variety of newspapers, periodicals, and books.

Bradley executed several designs to promote The Chap-Book, a short-lived but essential publication in Chicago. His 1894 design for The Chap-Book, entitled "The Twins," has been called the first American Art Nouveau poster; this and other posters for the magazine brought him widespread recognition and popularity. In 1895 Bradley founded the Wayside Press in Springfield, Massachusetts, and published a monthly arts periodical.

Bradley was well acquainted with the stylistic innovations of his European counterparts. Like many French artists, he borrowed stylistic elements from Japanese prints, working in flat, broad color planes and cropped forms. He appropriated the whiplash curves of the Art Nouveau movement so dominant in Europe at the turn of the century. He was influenced by the work of the English illustrator Aubrey Beardsley.

As an art director for William Randolph Hearst's publications, he got to know and commissioned works from many illustrators such as Edward Penfield and Maxfield Parrish. So much so, Bradley's illustrative style soon mimicked Parrish's. Hearst was introducing Bradley to yet another art medium - film. Bradley first art-directed serials for William Randolph Hearst's production company. He eventually formed Drama films production company to write, produce, and direct his original material.

Among his most outstanding commercial work from this period was his book illustrations, influenced by the black and white designs of Aubrey Beardsley, Charles Ricketts, and Laurence Housman. In Richard Blackmore's Fringilla, Bradley achieved a unity of type and illustration that prompted a critic for The Book Buyer to see Bradley as "the pioneer … the head of an American movement, similar to that which is taking place in England, France, and Germany, toward beautiful art books."

Shortly after Fringilla was published, Bradley established the Wayside Press, and by May 1896, the first issue of Bradley: His Book appeared at the newsstands. An art and literary magazines like many bibelots that increased during the 1890s, Bradley: His Book was distinguished by the outstanding decorative illustrations that enriched the text and advertisements.

In 1954, The Typophiles published a memoir of Bradley's life called Will Bradley: His Chap Book, a limited edition of 650 copies. The same year, he won the AIGA medal, the highest honor for graphic designers. He was a prolific artist and designer up until his death (January 25, 1962, La Mesa, USA) at age 94.            


Bambace, Anthony (1995), Will H. Bradley: His Work: A Bibliographical Guide, New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, and Boston: Thomas G. Boss Fine Books. ISBN 1-884718-08-6.

Koch, Robert (2002), Will H. Bradley: An American Artist in Print, Manchester, Vermont: Hudson Hills Press, LLC. ISBN 1-55595-224-0.

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