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Foster, William (1853-1924)

William was the second son of the famous water-colourist and book illustrator Myles Birket Foster, and the only child to become an artist. They were a Quaker family, and William's grandfather established a successful beer-bottling business. Myles Birket Foster built a Tudor-style mansion called "The Hill" at Witley, in Surrey, so that he could paint his popular idyllic rural scenes, which were frequently engraved as illustrations for anthologies. The house was furnished by William Morris, and was full of paintings, rare books including Caxtons, and china. Many artists visited the house. Edmund Evans, the printer and publisher, a student friend of Foster senior, lived next door and entertained Helen Allingham and Kate Greenaway, among others.

Lear's Nonsense drolleries 1889.

Edward Lear, Nonsense drolleries. London: Frederick Warne, 1889. Shelfmark: 12807. © The British Library Board

William was born on 6th June 1853, but his mother died in 1859. He must have had a good relationship with his stepmother Fanny, however, for he lived with his parents until he married Fanny's niece when he was 51. William was a serious ornithological draughtsman, and keen photographer, and he built nesting boxes so he could illustrate British birds in their haunts by C.A. Johns. He was elected a Fellow of the Zoological Society of London in 1895. He exhibited at the Royal Academy, the Institute of Painters in Water-colours and the Society of British Artists. He travelled abroad with his father, being involved in a carriage accident in Italy in 1875, fortunately with no serious injuries. Foster senior records his disgust at a bullfight in Madrid in 1883. In 1894 the family left the large house at Witley, and moved to Weybridge. Myles died in 1899 and William and Fanny moved to Petworth until William married in 1904. As well as his serious ornithological work William illustrated children's books and contributed many illustrations to periodicals, annuals and picture books which were compilations of verse and pictures by various artists. His work is in two different styles. Some pictures are realistic, with only the hint of a comic expression, while others are more obviously comic, with dressed animals. Although he was allowed to sign most of his work, some of the unsigned drawings in Ernest Nister's lavish publications seem to be by him. His work could be confused with that of G.H. Thompson. Louis Wain, however, drew with much bolder lines, and broader comic intent, and his work is usually signed. Foster produced much signed work for books by Nister, Henry Frowde, Humphrey Milford and Alf Cooke.

Happy funny book

Happy funny book. Illustrated by Louis Wain and William Foster. London: Scott and Sleeman, [1919]. [Cover title: Happy funny folk]. Shelfmark: YK.2000.b.4031. Cover. 20x15cm © The British Library Board


Foster contributed to many annuals and compilation books and his work is usually signed. Among the books wholly illustrated by him are:

The Boats of Galilee. London: Henry Frowde and Hodder & Stoughton, [1912]. Shelfmark: YK.1996.a.23308

A Cat from Persia. London: Henry Frowde and Hodder & Stoughton, [1910]. Shelfmark: LB.31.c.9680

A Cow from the country. London: Henry Frowde and Hodder & Stoughton, [1910]. Shelfmark: LB.31.c.9679

Dick and his dog. London: E. Nister, [1892]. Shelfmark: Nister.i.100

Follies, foibles & fancies of fish, flesh & fowl. Figured by Foster. London: Frederick Warne, [1889]. Shelfmark: 12330.k.42

Happy funny book. Illustrated by Louis Wain and William Foster. London: Scott & Sleeman, [1919]. Shelfmark: YK.2000.b.4031

Heads and tails. London: Humphrey Milford, [1929]. Shelfmark: YK.1999.a.2025

Keeper Jocks. Written and illustrated by W. Foster. London: James Nisbet, [1904]. Shelfmark:

My bird play book. London: Humphrey Milford, [1928]. Shelfmark: YK.1999.b.2285

Our country friends. London: Humphrey Milford, [1925]. Shelfmark: LB.31.b.15904

Something to pet. London: Henry Frowde and Hodder & Stoughton, [1909]. Shelfmark: YK.1996.b.16222

Squire Fox and his little family. London: Henry Frowde and Hodder & Stoughton, [1912]. Shelfmark: YK.1996.a.23425

Clifton Bingham, Our doggie. London: E. Nister, [1896]. Shelfmark: Nister.i.97

May Byron, The Bird book. London: Henry Frowde, [1915]. Shelfmark: 7285.h.19

Charles A. Johns, British birds in their haunts. Coloured plates by W. Foster [previously issued with other illustrations]. London: George Routledge, 1909. Shelfmark:

Edward Lear, Nonsense drolleries. The Owl & the pussy-cat. The Duck & the kangaroo. London: Frederick Warne, 1889. Shelfmark: 12807.p.61