New Zealand-born Harry Rountree settled in London in 1901, and developed a perfect style for illustration, of flat blocks of colour surrounded by thick outlines. Specialising in animal subjects, he illustrated many books, contributed widely to periodicals and designed posters.
Harry Rountree was born in Auckland, New Zealand, on 26 January 1878, the second of seven children of the bank manager, Stephen Gilbert Rountree, and his wife, Julia (née Bartley). He was educated at the city’s Queen’s College, and began work in the lithographic department of Wilson & Horton Printers, designing labels for jam tins and other products, and producing advertisements for newspapers that were printed by the company.
In 1901, Rountree migrated to London and attempted to gain commissions with magazine editors. Having little immediate success, he decided to study art, and took a course of life drawing under Percival Gaskell at Regent Street Polytechnic’s School of Art. The style that he evolved there directed fin-de-siècle elements towards comic ends, and his use of blocks of flat colour surrounded by thick jagged lines was found to be equally suitable for small-scale illustrations and large posters.
From 1903, he collaborated with Sam Hield Hamer, the editor of Little Folks, on a very successful series of books, the first of which was Quackles, Junior. In the same year, he began to illustrate books with his own texts. Making frequent sketching visits to London Zoo, he soon specialised in animal subjects, and illustrated several classics of children’s literature, including Uncle Remus (1906, with René Bull) and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1908). While developing as a book illustrator, he also contributed to a wide range of magazines, including Punch (1905-39), The Graphic (1906, 1911), Comica (1908-9), and The Illustrated London News (1911).
In 1905, Rowntree married Auckland-born Estella Stewart at Oaklands Congregational Church, London, with S H Hamer as his best man. They settled at Dormers Wells House, Dormer’s Wells Lane, Southall, Middlesex, and it remained the family home until the Second World War. They would have two children, Gilbert (born 1907) and Lynda (born 1909). By the Census of 1911, they were joined by Harry’s brother, Edward, who was at that time a student. Harry played golf at the nearby West Middlesex Golf Club, and joined the Press Golfing Society, the sport becoming a frequent subject of his art, including the series of watercolours that illustrate Bernard Darwin’s The Golf Courses of the British Isles (1910). Highly sociable, he was also a member of the Savage Club and the London Sketch Club, and he became President of the latter for the year 1914-15.
At the outbreak of the First World War, Rountree joined the National Reserve, becoming a captain in the 4th Battalion Middlesex Volunteer Regiment. In May 1917, he joined the Royal Engineers, in which he rose to become an acting captain assigned to duties relating to Inland Water Transport at Richborough, Kent.
In 1917, Rountree was the subject of an issue of Percy Venner Bradshaw’s series, ‘The Art of the Illustrator’. Following the end of the war, he joined the Advisory Staff of Bradshaw’s Press Art School, Forest School, and produced for it the watercolour course, ‘Birds, Beasts and Fishes’. He further diversified by designing greetings cards, calendars and postcards, and working in advertising, producing a long-running series of advertisements for Mansion and Cherry Blossom polishes that featured a family of mice. However, he continued to contribute to periodicals, including Playtime and The Radio Times, and illustrate books, including two editions of Aesop’s Fables (1924, 1934) and three collaborations with his daughter, Lynda (1929-31), who became a secretary at a technical college.
In 1942, the Rountrees moved to Cornwall, settling at a house in The Saltings, Lelant, just outside St Ives. Harry also took a studio at 5 Piazza Studios, St Ives (eventually becoming the owner of the whole block), and became a committee member of the St Ives Society of Artists and a town councillor (1945-48). However, despite his sociability, he maintained a distance from the Modernist artists now identified with St Ives, and indeed was highly critical of them. He died in West Cornwall Hospital, Penzance, on 26 September 1950, and was survived by his wife and children.
Michael Pirie, ‘Rountree, Harry (1878–1950)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2018, https://doi.org/10.1093/odnb/9780198614128.013.110222