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Curious and true


Here’s a sad little story for you. Going to Bateman’s put me in mind of it.

Edward Julius and Charles Maurice Detmold were twin brothers born in Surrey in 1883. Their father was chronically ill, so they grew up in the house of an uncle who, among other things, collected Japanese woodcuts. The brothers became fascinated with drawing in the Japanese style.

It would be fair to call them prodigies: they both had exhibited in watercolor at the Royal Academy by the time they were 13. Mostly animal pictures. Before they were 20, they had several very successful picture books to their credit. Their fortunes really took off that year when they were asked to illustrate Kipling’s Jungle Book.

There’s a little room in Bateman’s that has some — maybe all — of these illustrations and a few more. I assume they’re the originals. Beautiful stuff.

The success of these pictures allowed them to divide their time between London and Ditchling, Sussex — not far from here. Half a year at each. In 1908, when they were 25, they were preparing to go down to Ditchling. Here’s where it gets weird.

Their local doctor gave them some chloroform to kill the housecat. Which Maurice did. Then he took the remainder of the chloroform and killed himself.

That’s it. That’s all the detail I’ve ever been able to glean from any source, and I have so many questions. Was the cat ill? Did people routinely kill their cats rather than bring them on holiday? I know people were shitty to cats back then, but that seems a bit much. Was Maurice depressed? Could it have been an accident? Or did he — this is my favorite theory — kill the cat and then feel so awful about it aferward that he offed himself?

Edward had a long and successful career after, though many reckon his brother had the more talent. In his seventies, Edward’s eyesight began to fail. He killed himself with a shot to the chest in 1957.

Well worth looking up their work. Here is the full image from the header. It’s a lovely thing. Not sure which Detmold did it, perhaps both. Looking at it, I think they used a combination of watered-down and full strength ink. Or perhaps it’s an etching — they did a lot of printmaking.

I know what your monkeybrain is telling you. It’s telling you if you were super careful and made a zillion little descriptive lines, you could maybe do something that looked like that. I’m here to inform you, sadly, from a lifetime of experience, monkeybrain lies.

September 27, 2017 — 8:42 pm
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