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Henry Justice Ford

Updated on February 1, 2016
H. J. Ford - illustration from the Violet Fairy Book
H. J. Ford - illustration from the Violet Fairy Book

Who Was Henry J. Ford?

Henry Justice Ford was a very successful illustrator at the end of 19th and at the beginning of 20th century. Today he is mostly known for collaboration with Scottish editor, literary critic, and collector of folk tales Andrew Lang, who created so-called Colored Fairy Books, but he also contributed his talents to other works by Lang and other important literary names of his time. As many of his contemporaries, he also contributed to numerous magazines and was a portrait painter as well.

The quality of Ford's work, no matter if we are looking at pen and ink or watercolors, is astonishing, especially if we consider how much he did and how long he was active. In four decades of intensive work, he got a chance to illustrate hundreds of fairy tales, stories, legends, and fables. His style varied, but his ink work and sense for design stayed consistent with his initial preferences.

Essentially he was a romantic painter who liked to create sensual characters in dramatic settings and we'll check some of his finest examples.

(intro image from Violet Fairy Book, all used images are in Public Domain)

The Cunning Hare, American Indian Fable
The Cunning Hare, American Indian Fable

Short biography of H J Ford

Henry J. Ford was born in 1860 in London as one of seven (!) brothers. His father was a solicitor and his grandfather was also a solicitor and money lender. His family wasn't known by art, but cricket. Henry's father wrote several books on the subject and all seven brothers (including Henry, who was a member of J. M. Barrie's - yes, the author of Peter Pan - Allahakbarrie Cricket Club) played this popular game. The eldest brother William and the youngest Francis were among best players of their generation in the world.

Henry studied at Repton School, Clare College, Slade School of fine Art and Bushy School of Art. His first exhibitions in 1892 at royal Academy paved his way into historical scenes which soon culminated in the imaginary world of fairy tales with knights, maidens, dwarfs, witches, dragons and all sorts of monsters by which he achieved world recognition, although today he is unjustly almost unknown in comparison of his contemporary Arthur Rackham.

Henry was over sixty years old when he married for the first time with a woman more than half younger of his age. His wife Emily was a stage artist and already a widow (her husband was killed in a battle). Six years after the marriage they adopted a girl named Freda May Snowdown, but she was soon renamed to June Mary Magdalene).

Henry Justice died in 1941. His paintings can be found in many worlds known galleries, he portrayed many famous contemporaries, including royalties, but his major legacy is definitely a collection of books of fairy tales with which whole generations of children grew up. Many of these books (originals or reprints) are still in families and we can say his work made him immortal this way.

Where to buy Colored Fairy Books?

Literary history is full of charming books, but it's hard to find anything comparable to series of Andrew Lang's fairy books with hundreds of stories for children from all over the world. H. J. Ford's illustrations significantly contributed to their success and now they are considered as a very special treasure in many households.

Fortunately, they are all available for affordable price.

The Blue Fairy Book (Dover Children's Classics)
The Blue Fairy Book (Dover Children's Classics)

Everything started with the Blue Fairy Book, but on this page, you'll find links to all other books in the series (twelve altogether) as well.

Beauty and the Beast, illustrated by H. J. Ford
Beauty and the Beast, illustrated by H. J. Ford | Source

Few words about Coloured Fairy Books

This is a collection of twelve volumes published between 1889 and 1910. Each book was named after one color (first was blue, next red, and so on to the last which was lilac). Most of the books were republished and several stories from different volumes were also published in special volumes, (for instance Rose Fairy Book), some well-known stories were published under less known names and many fairy tales were adapted for children, what in some cases resulted in shallower characters and less convincing plots.

Anyway, this collection made a huge impact and many editors and collectors followed Lang's example. This collection found the way to hundreds of thousands of homes and imaginative illustrations certainly helped to achieve that. Only free illustrators contributed to first editions of these twelve books of fairy tales and only H. J. Ford made drawings for all of them.

This was tremendous opportunity to lay his hands on a wide variety of fairy tales, from works by brothers Grimm, Madame d'Aulnoy, Charles Perrault and H. C. Andersen, fables from Arabian Nights to folktales of almost unknown tribes of Africa and American Indians.

Aquarels by H. J. Ford - Color plates from Arabian Nights Entertainments

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Thus They Rode All DayThe Genius Commands the Young Man to Slay the PrincessThe Prince and the Princess Arrive at the Capital of Persia on the Enchanted Horse
Thus They Rode All Day
Thus They Rode All Day
The Genius Commands the Young Man to Slay the Princess
The Genius Commands the Young Man to Slay the Princess
The Prince and the Princess Arrive at the Capital of Persia on the Enchanted Horse
The Prince and the Princess Arrive at the Capital of Persia on the Enchanted Horse

Arabian Nights Entertainments, a collection of stories, told by Scheherazade to her husband who developed a nasty habit of killing his wives after the wedding night, is definitely one of Ford's masterpieces. More than sixty illustrations in pen and ink and four colored plates were published in a so-called crown edition by Longman in 1889.

Longman, a London-based publishing house (with seats in New York and Toronto too), published Coloured Fairy Books as well.

Inkwork by H. J. Ford - Selection from The Green Fairy Book

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Henry Justice Ford's influences

H. J. Ford as he often signed his works, was influenced by some famous contemporaries, like Edward Bourne-Jones and Pre-Raphaelites, who all loved to portray sensuous ladies and produced many immortal portraits of real or fictitious characters, or Walter Crane, the master of design with incredible eye for details, who managed to fuse text and graphic material in unique results.

Edward Borne-Jones (1833-1899) was one of his best friends and same is true for James Matthew Barrie, the author of Peter Pan (Ford designed costumes for the premiere of Peter Pan theater show and draw a map Kensington Gardens). He was also friend with Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes, and Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, who became famous thanks to stories about Jeeves and Wooster.

We can also say H. J. Ford influenced hundreds of artists all over the world who still create new fairy worlds for today's children and posterity as well.

He spent the last years of his life near Kensington Gardens

Which did you prefer?

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Suggested readings

If you like the subject, there are few addresses, where you can find more info, but I have to warn you - these trips can be really time-consuming:)

© 2014 Tolovaj Publishing House

Are you familiar with Coloured Fairy Books and Henry J. Ford's work? - Can you share some of your experience with us?

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    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 months ago from Ljubljana

      Thank you vocalcoach, I appreciate it!

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 14 months ago from Nashville Tn.

      What a wonderful introduction to a man I've not heard of until now. Ford was a gifted artist. Thanks for the photos too. Sharing.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 2 years ago from Ljubljana

      My pleasure, Nell Rose, and thanks for stopping by!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

      Hi, I had never heard of him before, so this was fascinating, and those pictures are so lovely, thanks for teaching me something new!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 2 years ago from Ljubljana

      He created many great illustrations and was good painter as well. Thanks for stopping by, aesta1!

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