Illustrator Profile: Arthur Burdett Frost

During the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, Authur Burdett Frost created thousands of illustrations for esteemed periodicals such as Harper’s Weekly, Scribner’s and Life, as well as hundreds of oils and watercolors. His drawings, always expressive and dynamic, were innovative for their creative engagement with motion and sequence, and frequently centered on capturing the drama and unbridled emotion in the world of sports.

Arthur Burdett Frost, “At the Bursting Point,” likely study for cartoon published in Life, 1922. Main image rendered in ink, surrounding sketches in graphite. Estimate $500 to $750.

Training and Early Influence of Thomas Eakins

Born in Philadelphia in 1851, Frost began an apprenticeship with engravers and lithographers at the age of 15. In 1874, he illustrated Out of the Hurly Burly, a book of humorous short stories by Charles Heber Clark. The title was a commercial success and launched Frost’s illustration career. Shortly after, in 1876, Harper & Brothers hired Frost to work in their art department, where he honed his technique and worked alongside other famed illustrators of the period, including E. W. Kemble and Frederic Remington.

In 1878, Frost enrolled in night classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts to study under Thomas Eakins. Eakins’ naturalistic style would prove to be highly influential to Frost, who developed sound draftsmanship under Eakins tutelage and became fascinated with the natural movement of the human body and its variety of spontaneous gestures.

Though Frost briefly studied with William Merritt Chase and spent time in London and Paris, it is Eakins’ influence and his introduction to Eadweard Muybridge by Eakins that seems most influential.

Arthur Frost & Innovations in Photography

Eadweard Muybridge, A selection of 10 plates from Animal Locomotion depicting animals, collotype. Sold February 2020 in our sale of Classic & Contemporary Photographs for $3,900.

At the time Frost entered the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Eakins was fascinated with technical advances in photography, particularly the innovative motion studies of Eadweard Muybridge. Comic book historian Theirry Smolderen argues that Muybridge’s study of movement in animals and humans, with its visual output of repetitive chronophotographic compositions, was influential for Frost’s picture stories.1 Frost borrowed Muybridge’s pictorial advancements in photography and translated them into a distinctive American comic strip style, which was perfectly suited to his sequential picture stories, such as the books Stuff & Nonsense,1884, The Bull Calf and Other Tales, 1892, and Carlo, 1913. Frost was one of the first cartoonists to develop a style based on the expressive potential of the photographic process.

Arthur Burdett Frost, “Nature Study With a Camera,” together, 21 drawings for a 20-panel cartoon published in The Ladies’ Home Journal, 1915, pen and ink on stiff paper. Estimate: $2,000 to $3,000.

This charming picture story of a photographer and a lamb illustrates how Frost evokes Muybridge’s repetitive grid to playfully engage with the idiom of progressive action. Here, Frost’s initially wary photographer absorbs the spontaneous energy and hapless exuberance of the rambunctious lamb he attempts to photograph.

Arthur Burdett Frost, “Nature Study With a Camera,” concept study for a 20-panel cartoon published in The Ladies’ Home Journal, 1915, graphite on paper. Published image pictured at right is not included in the lot. Estimate: $2,000 to $3,000.

The 24-panel concept study sheet and the revisions to panels included in the published version show Frost’s artistic process and the possible guidance of an editor, who may have suggested that the visual narrative could be conveyed through fewer panels. 

Larger Body of Work

Frost illustrated books for many of the leading writers of the day, including Lewis Carroll, who enlisted the artist to illustrate his Rhyme? And Reason?, 1883, and A Tangled Tale, 1885. His pictures grace the pages of texts by other leading authors, including Mark Twain, Charles Dickens and Theodore Roosevelt, yet he is perhaps most well-known for his charmingly quaint illustrations in The Tales of Uncle Remus stories (first published in 1881) by Joel Chandler Harris. His rendering of Harris’ “Br’er Rabbit” character was issued as a commemorative stamp honoring American illustrators in 2001.

Arthur Burdett Frost, “Br’er Rabbit,” watercolor over pencil on paper, 1881-1928.
Image courtesy of The Clark Institute.

Sporting and Golf

An ardent sportsman, Frost was known for his hunting, shooting and golf images that capture the drama of sport, and the passions of its players, in richly detailed settings. He was working during the nascent years of golf in the United States, and was a regular player at the Morris County Golf Club in Morristown, New Jersey, which was founded in 1894.

Arthur Burdett Frost, “He Got Madder and Madder and Madder,” six-panel comic strip published in Life, 1921, pen and ink over graphite on paper. Accompanied by a framed printed tear sheet of the comic (pictured at right). Estimate: $3,000 to $4,000.

In “He Got Madder and Madder and Madder,” Frost adeptly captures the growing intensity of a golfer’s frustration after driving thirteen balls into the pond through both subtle visual cues – a hunched shoulder, a clenched fist – and exaggerated gestures – a body dramatically agitated from the effort of successively hurling a club, bag, and hapless caddie with flailing limbs into the pond, before finally heaving himself headfirst into the water after them. The hilarity of the pictorial story is achieved through this masterly play of oppositions, which is also seen in the contrasting personalities of an aggressive and emotive player and his unfortunate caddie.

The published form, with its regular grid and dynamic characters acting within a repetitive stable and static background again evoke the work of Muybridge and the rhythmic acceleration of action from image to image, but Frost manipulates the form away from the objective documentary style and into a format to poke fun at the modern world and its inhabitants.

The final caption indicates that the golfer returned to play the next day, suggesting that these sorts of dramatic ups and downs are to be expected in the sport and are familiar to those who play.

Arthur Burdett Frost, “Can this be the same man?” six-panel cartoon published in Life, 1922. Pen and ink on stiff paper. Estimate: $3,000 to $4,000.

Similarly, golfers may see themselves in the protagonist of “Can This Be The Same Man?,” who is disagreeable in the office, yet comes alive on the golf course and at the club, where he becomes “the most genial soul in the locker room.” Like many of his contemporaries, Frost sometimes incorporated his own likeness into his illustrations (his resemblance is seen in the man with the goatee and glasses here), suggesting he may too feel most himself on the course. Dick McDonough, esteemed collector of golf illustration, emphasizes the timeless relatability of Frost’s golfers, “Their garb and golf paraphernalia differ, otherwise you could expect to meet them at the golf course during your next round. In one sense, not too much has changed in 100 years.”2

Arthur Burdett Frost, Golfer Smoking, cover study for Collier’s, 1919. Mixed media, including watercolor and pencil on paper. A framed copy of the published cover accompanies the artwork (pictured at right). Estimate: $2,000 to $3,000.

In addition to the various pictorial stories produced for leading periodicals, Frost illustrated numerous books about golf, including The Golfer’s Alphabet, 1898, and The Epic of Golf, 1923, by Clinton Scollard. Toward the end of his career, he also produced two golf covers for Collier’s magazine.

[1] See the chapter ‘A. B. Frost and the Photographic Revolution,’ published in The Origins of Comics: From William Hogarth to Winsor McCay by Theirry Smolderen (Jackson: University of Mississippi, 2014, pages 119-36, reproduced page 118).

[2] Richard A. McDonough III, “Bringing early golf to life: A. B. Frost,” The Bulletin published by the Golf Collector’s Society, no. 116, August 1993, pages 10-12.

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