Born at Christchurch (Hampshire), near Bournemouth, UK, Gleeson White was educated at Christ Church School. The son of a bookseller and stationer, he was a self-educated craftsman and designer, a collector, and a perceptive writer on art, illustration, photography, and literature. Born as Joseph William he later replaced his first names, which were identical to his father’s, with his mother’s maiden name, Gleeson. White became a highly influential editor in the 1890s. He championed new talents and the most innovative trends in design and poetry in his capacity as art editor to the publisher George Bell and Sons and as first editor of The Studio , the wide-circulation magazine whose graphic personality dominated the fin-de-siècle art scene.
Best known for his books and articles on illustration and painting, White also had a real impact on the literary world of the fin de siècle. Douglas Sladen claims, for example, that White’s early edited volume on Ballades and Rondeaus (1887) — an insightful introduction to the old French poetic forms and a collection of the best examples of the kind by well-known authors such Henry Dobson (1840-1921), Edmund Gosse (1849-1928), and Andrew Lang (1844-1912) — was at the origin of a veritable rage of ballade-writing. Meanwhile, Haldane Macfall declares that, quiet and unassuming as he was, White was in fact “one of the men who made the artistic and literary life of London at this time” (35). A friend of A. L. Baldry (1858-1939), Acton Bond (1861-1941), Harley Granville-Barker (1877-1946), Charles Kains-Jackson (1857-1933), Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927), Louise Jopling (1843-1933), Richard Le Gallienne (1866-1947), Charles Lewis Hind (1862-1927), Phil May (1864-1903), Joseph Pennell (1857-1926), Frederick Rolfe (1860-1913), William Sharp (1855-1905), C. J. Shannon, and many others, White’s London “at-homes” entertained a large set of literary, artistic, and theatrical people (Sladen 63).
In 1890 White moved to New York, where he edited The Art Amateur (1891-92), a popular art magazine making extensive use of the latest photographic reproduction technology. White returned to London in 1892 to work for the publisher George Bell and Sons, designing book covers and editing a series on art and architecture with Edward F. Strange (1862-1929).
In 1893, he welcomed Charles Holme’s invitation to become founding editor of The Studio (1893-1895). Subtitled an Illustrated Magazine of Fine and Applied Art , and costing only a sixpence, The Studio became one of the most important magazines of the period, with its influence extending throughout the UK, and most of Europe and North America. One of White’s innovations — the exclusive use of photomechanical reproduction for the monthly magazine’s artwork — made The Studio , in Clive Ashwin’s words, “the first visually modern magazine” (“The Founding,” 9). Since the first issue also featured the art of Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) on its cover and in an illustrated feature, The Studio rapidly became associated with graphic style designed specifically for reproduction. Influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement, The Studio also embraced foreign trends and industrial art and design. Under White’s editorship, the magazine introduced the public to the poster movement, the nude in photography, and the bold work of artists such as Beardsley, Charles Klinger, Charles Ricketts (1866-1931), Frederick Rolfe, Henry Scott Tuke (1858-1929), and the “Glasgow Four” (Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Herbert MacNair, and Margaret and Frances MacDonald). Lavishly illustrated with exclusively photographic images, yet relatively inexpensive, it made the avant garde popular, while enhancing the legitimacy and appreciation for the homoerotic works of the Uranian movement, which included artists such as Tuke and writers such John Addington Symonds (1840-1893) and Oscar Wilde (1854-1900). It was thanks to The Studio ’s reproductions of his black-and-white drawings that Beardsley was later commissioned to illustrate Wilde’s play Salomé (1894). The magazine quickly became a commercial success, with a French and an American version becoming available for international readers. White ceased to be editor of The Studio in 1895 but continued to contribute to the magazine until his death, from typhoid fever, in 1898, writing pieces on painting, photography, book-binding, design, and illustration.
As a designer, White became a member of the Art Workers Guild in 1895. The following year, he became the literary editor of The Pageant, with Charles Shannon as art editor. He also wrote articles for The Pageant , as well as other periodicals such as The Dial, The Artist and Journal of Home Culture, and The Dome . White’s last editorial venture was the short-lived Parade, an illustrated gift-book for boys and girls (1897), which attempted to awaken the artistic sense of the young without being patronizing. His last book, the compendious English Illustration: ‘The Sixties’ 1855-1870 (1897) is one of his most influential and enduring contributions to studies of the wood-engraved periodical and book illustrations of the Pre-Raphaelites and other artists working in the high Victorian period.
© Copyright 2013 Catherine Delyfer
Catherine Delyfer is professor of English at the University of Toulouse (France) and editor of the French journal of Victorian studies, Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens , published by the University of Montpellier.
Selected Publications by Gleeson White
- Ballads and Rondeaus: Chants Royal, Sestinas, Villanelles, Etc.; Selected with Chapter on the Various Forms by Gleeson White. London: W. Scott, 1887.
- Book-song: an Anthology of Poems of Books and Bookmen from Modern Authors with a Preface by Gleeson White . London: Elliot Stock, 1893.
- The Cathedral Church of Salisbury. London: George Bell and Sons, 1896.
- English Illustrations: ‘The Sixties’ 1855-1870. London: Constable, 1897.
- Letters to Eminent Hands: To Wit, Andrew Lang, Bret Harte, Edna Lyall, F. Anstey, George Moore, Grant Allen, Phil Robinson, Rhoda Broughton, Robt. Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy, W. S. Gilbert. Derby: F. Murray, 1892.
- The Master Painters of Britain. 4 vols. Edinburgh: T. C. and E. C. Jack, 1897-98.
- Practical Designing: a Handbook on the Preparation of Working Drawings. George Bell and Sons, 1893.
- The Parade, an Illustrated Gift-Book for Boys and Girls. London: H. Henry, 1897.
- The Pageant. London: H. Henry, 1896.
- The Studio. London: C. Holme, 1893-1895.
Selected publications about Gleeson White
- Anon. “Gleeson White.” The Academy: A Weekly Review of Literature, Science, and Art. 55.29 (October 1898): 161-62. Print.
- Ashwin, Clive. “Gleeson White: Aesthete and Editor.” Apollo CVIII (October 1978): 254-61. Print.
- —. “The Early Studio and its Illustrations.” Studio International 196.1003 (1983): 22-29. Print.
- —. “The Founding of The Studio.” The Studio: High Art and Low Life: The Studio and the fin de siècle . Ed. Michael Spens. Washington: Arthur M Sackler Foundation, 1993. 4-9. Print.
- Beegan, Gerry. “ The Studio: Photomechanical Reproduction and the Changing Status of Design.” Design Issues 23.4 (2007): 46-61. Print.
- Brothers, Ann, ed. The Studio Portrait: the Marketing of Art and Taste, 1893-191 8. Parkville, Vic.: University of Melbourne History Research Series 4, 1993. Print.
- Gordon, D. J. “Dilemmas: The Studio in 1893-4.” Studio International CLXXV: 899 (May 1968): 175-83. Print.
- Hiatt, Charles. “In Memory of Gleeson White.” The Poster 1.5 (November 1898): 197. Web.
- Houfe, Simon. The Illustrators of the Nineties. London: Barnie and Jenkins, 1992. Print.
- Macfall, Haldane. Aubrey Beardsley: The Man and His Work . London: John Lane, 1928. Print.
- Rhead, Louis. “Gleeson White.” The New York Times 12 November 1898. Web.
- Shaw Sparrow, Walter. Memories of Art and Life Through Sixty Years . London: John Lane, 1925. Print.
- Sladen, Douglas. Twenty Years of My Life. New York: E. P. Dutton and Company Publishers,1913. Web.
Delyfer, Catherine. “Gleeson Joseph William White (1851-1895),” Y90s Biographies, edited by Dennis Denisoff, 2013. Yellow Nineties 2.0, General Editor Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019, https://1890s.ca/gleeson_bio/.