Dutch-born Salomon Van Abbé developed a range of skills at a number of London art schools, and established himself as a very English illustrator. He is now best remembered for his etchings of legal subjects and his illustrations for popular classics.
Salomon Van Abbé was born in Amsterdam on 31 July 1883, the son of a diamond dealer, and elder brother of the illustrator who worked as ‘Joseph Abbey’. He moved to England with his family when he was five years old, and was educated in London. He studied art at Toynbee Hall, Whitechapel; the People’s Palace, Bow; the Central School of Arts and Crafts and the LCC’s School of Photo-Engraving and Lithography, Bolt Court, Fleet Street (the last under Walter Bayes, Cecil Rae and Walter Seymour). At Bolt Court, he met fellow etcher, Edmund Blampied, who later married Van Abbé’s sister, Marianne. Working initially as a periodical illustrator, Van Abbé contributed regularly to various newspapers and magazines including The Illustrated London News.
However, he is more renowned for his work on books, designing covers for the publishers Ward Lock & Co, among others. He made extensive tours to France, Spain, Italy and, of course, Holland and Belgium, to observe the scenery and inhabitants, gathering stocks of material for use in future illustrative compositions. Although his style was relatively conventional and representational, it was often marked by finely-hatched shading, echoing his skills as an etcher, which came to the fore in the 1920s and 30s with his many legal subjects. While developing this style, he became preoccupied with exploring people’s gestures and facial expressions, resulting in the highly animated characterisations that we see in his book illustrations. These were often line drawings; however, his prodigious ability to use colour is demonstrated in his illustrations for Louisa M Alcott’s Little Women (1948) and Good Wives (1953). He sometimes worked under the pen names ‘J Abbey’ and ‘C Morse’. Van Abbé exhibited regularly at London societies, including the Royal Academy, as well as abroad, and was elected an Associate of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers (ARE) in 1928 and a member of the Royal Society of British Artists (RBA) in 1933. A member of the London Sketch Club – where he was known as Jack – he was its President in the year 1940-41. Living in Streatham for many years, he died in London on 28 February 1955.