Richard Doyle’s ‘Court of Queen Vic’
A spread from Richard Doyle’s ‘The Brother to the Moon’s Visit to the Court of Queen Vic’ that sold for £1900 at Cheffins of Cambridge. On the left are seen ‘Jugglers & Tumblers’, and on the right, ‘...the Present of 21,000,000 of Dollars to Queen Vic from the Brother to the Moon. Very much against his inclination’.

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Inspired by a successful conclusion (for the British, at least) of the first Opium War in China in that same year, it was the work of Richard Doyle (1824-83) but does not feature in those references to his life and work that I consulted.

I could find only one other auction record, a copy in a Rivière binding of green morocco gilt sold for £1600 at Bloomsbury Auctions in 2009, although I did stumble across a copy currently being offered by a Tokyo dealer at 54,000 Yen, around £320.

Unusually for ‘Dickie’ Doyle’s work, the 24 coloured etched plates – a pair of which are reproduced here – are fully coloured.

Richard Doyle’s ‘Court of Queen Vic’

The cover of the Doyle lot that sold for £1900 at Cheffins, in which a startled Queen Victoria, Albert and courtiers meet the Chinese ‘teapot’ delegation, whose pigtails form handles.

Conan Doyle’s Nephew

The son of John Doyle, an Irish cartoonist and political caricaturist, Richard's early work often featured in Punch, to whose editor, Mark Lemon, he had been introduced as a talented 19-year-old by his uncle, Arthur Conan Doyle. A famous illustration of Mr Punch and his dog that he made for the masthead continued in use until 1954.

Doyle’s first published humorous book illustrations celebrated the famous re-enactment of medieval jousting that was The Eglinton Tournament (1840), and other early work included contributions to three of Charles Dickens’ Christmas books.

It was as an illustrator of fairy tales, fantasy and the grotesque, however, that Doyle showed a special talent.

Illustrations for The Fairy Ring, an 1846 version of Grimm’s tales were followed in 1850 by The Story of Jack and the Giants and by Ruskin’s The King of the Golden River, which latter work went through three editions within a year.

The ‘Elf World’ plates Doyle produced for William Allingham’s In Fairyland of 1869 – another venture into full colour – represent perhaps his most admired work

Printed by Edmund Evans and published by Longmans for Christmas 1869, it is recognised as one of the finer examples of Victorian book production but at a guinea and a half was not a commercial success.

Thackeray’s Frustration

Doyle could be brilliant, but was also notoriously unreliable. Consistently late with his work, he only finished illustrating Thackeray’s The Newcomes when its author threatened to take the work back into his own hands.

The excuses he made were on other occasions ridiculous and one failure to meet a deadline was, he said, because he had “not got any pencils”.