Jessie Marion King (1875 – 1949) Scottish illustrator of children’s books

Golden Days in the Coming Years by Jessie Marion King
Golden Days in the Coming Years by Jessie Marion King

Jessie Marion King (1875 – 1949) was a well-known Scottish illustrator who specialised in children’s books. She also painted pottery and crafted bookplates, jewellery, and fabric. King was a member of the Glasgow Girls, a collective of female artists.

Early Life

King was born in Bearsden, Dunbartonshire, near Glasgow, at the manor of New Kilpatrick. Her father was a Church of Scotland minister named James Wat(t)ers King, and her mother was Mary Anne Anderson. She had a strict religious upbringing and was discouraged from pursuing a career as an artist.

“Her decorative touch was usually very delicate, with precise depictions of flowers, animals, children, fairies and nursery rhymes.”

Linda Rosenkrantz

King used to hide sketches she made in school because she was afraid her mother would tear them up when she was a child. The family housekeeper, Mary McNab, was a formative influence on King and was considered as her second mother by her. As a teenager, King had a supernatural encounter in Argyll when she fell asleep on a hillside and felt the presence of fairies, which she continued to believe existed.

Biography

In 1899, King was appointed as Tutor in Book Decoration and Design at Glasgow School of Art. She taught before her marriage to E. A. Taylor in 1908, and she decided to retain her maiden name going against the grain.

Original designs

Art Nouveau-inspired King at the time and her works have a similar mood to The Glasgow Fours. Despite Art Nouveau’s influence, she was inspired to produce original designs that did not literalise the real world. “I refused to copy sketches,” she said, “but insisted on drawing from my imagination.” She created extensive pen and ink drawings on vellum during her early years.

Jessie M. King: How Beautiful Are Thy Feet with Shoes, O King's Daughter
Jessie M. King: How Beautiful Are Thy Feet with Shoes, O King’s Daughter

King’s early works mainly consisted of drawing, but she also wrote books and was a professional jeweller. Some consider her first and best designs for the covers of books published by Globus Verlag in Berlin between 1899 and 1902. The publisher was a subsidiary of Wertheim’s, a respected Berlin department store. Georg Wertheim, the publisher, asked her to create “a collection of products in the ‘new Scottish Theme.’  She worked on the covers of over 100 books and other magazines, illustrating, writing, decorating, and designing them.

Tour of Germany and Italy

In 1902, she went on a Grand Tour of Germany and Italy, where she was inspired by Botticelli’s work. Her binding for “L’Evangile de L’Enfance” received a gold medal at the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative Art in Turin the same year. Since there was no provision for an award to be won by a “Signora,” the resulting certificate was made out to “Signor Jessie Marion King.”   

King was elected to the Glasgow Society of Artists’ committee in 1903, as well as the Glasgow Society of Lady Artists (1905). Her contribution to Art Nouveau peaked during her first exhibits, at Glasgow’s Annan’s Gallery (1907) and London’s Bruton Street Galleries (1908).

A 1907 Jessie M. King bookplate for Charles D. Edwards on Japanese vellum.
A 1907 Jessie M. King bookplate for Charles D. Edwards on Japanese vellum.

King and her husband moved to Salford in 1908, where their only child, Merle Elspeth, was born in 1909; Mary McNab joined the family, allowing King to continue working. The couple honeymooned on Arran, where they later rented out cottages in High Corrie to run a summer painting and sketching academy. 

Move to Paris

They moved to Paris in 1910, where Taylor had been appointed as a professor at Ernest Percyval Tudor-Studios. Hart’s The Sheiling Atelier School in Paris was founded by King and Taylor in 1911. Her work in Paris is credited with influencing the development of the Art Deco movement. In 1915, King and Taylor relocated to Kirkcudbright, where she worked until her death.

Sources

Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

Wikipedia contributors. (2021, March 21). Jessie M. King. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 09:00, March 31, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jessie_M._King&oldid=1013439753

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