Peter Pan

Mabel Lucie Attwell was an early 20th-century British female children's book illustrator. She is best known for her cute and sentimental watercolor drawings of little girls, fairies, goblins and funny animals, which were widely marketed in the United Kingdom throughout most of the mid 20th century. Lesser known is that she also created a few comics for children's magazines like Playbox and a newspaper comic named 'Wot A Life' (1943).

Mabel Lucie Attwell was born in 1879 at Mile End, London, as the daughter of a butcher. Her father was rather strict and distant, which might explain why she felt the urge to romanticize childhood in her future artwork. Attwell studied at the Coopers' Company School and took art classes at Regent School of Art and Heatherley's, though she finished neither course. Her heart was just more in creating fantasy illustrations. At age 16 she brought her work to the artists' agency Francis and Mills who didn't see much in her drawings of fairies and little children. But they were willing to give it a chance. As it turned out the illustrations were sold within a week, which led to her first contract.

Attwell's first work was published in The Tatler, The Bystander, Graphic and The Illustrated London News. By the turn of the century she was a prolific illustrator of children's books, mostly reprints of popular children's classics like 'Mother Goose' (1910), 'Alice in Wonderland' (1911), 'The Idylls of The King' (1911), 'Grimm's Fairy Tales' (1912), 'Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen' (1914) and 'The Water Babies' (1915). J.M. Barrie adored her work and personally requested her to illustrate a 1921 edition of his play 'Peter Pan'. Other celebrity fans were Queen Marie of Romania and Princess Margaret of England. Attwell even illustrated Queen Marie's children's book 'Peeping Tom' (1919).

In 1908 Attwell married a fellow illustrator, Harold Earnshaw, with whom she had three children. This didn't mean the end of her career, though. In 1909 she created comics for the magazine Playbox. By 1911 she was a much desired illustrator of greeting cards for Valentine & Sons of Dundee. Her responsibility and productivity increased when her husband served his country during World War I and came back invalid, forcing her to become the breadwinner of the family.

Her talent was best suited for children's stories, fairy tales and nursery rhymes. Attwell often invented misspelled titles for her illustrations to make them come more across as if a child had drawn them. Among her most popular characters were The Boo Boos who appeared in two 1921 children's books. She used these chubby, baby-like fairies on various merchandising items. Attwell emerged as one of Britain's most popular commercial illustrators. Her cute and cuddly pictures of children, forest animals and fantasy creatures adorned countless children's books, postcards, advertisements (like for the cleaning product Vim and Shelley Potteries' china ware), figurines, dolls, posters and her own annual series 'The Lucie Attwell Annual' (1922-1974) and picture book series, 'Lucie Attwell Picture Books' (1924-...). Much like the later artist Kim Casali though, Attwell was a tremendous commercial hit with general audiences but reviled by serious art lovers.

Wot A Life in The Passing Show #148 (19 January 1935)
Wot A Life in The Passing Show #148 (19 January 1935)

Attwell also created a comic strip called 'Wot a Life'. Between at least 1935 and 1937 it ran in Laughter, the illustrated humor section of The Passing Show magazine. The strip also appeared in The London Opinion, either in 1933 or in 1943 (sources differ).

In 1964 she passed away. Her daughter, Peggy Wickham, was her co-assistant during the latter part of her career and later became an illustrator herself. Attwell often based her little girl characters on her.

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