Charles Edmund Brock, RI (1870-1938) While retaining distinct artistic personalities, the brothers, Charles and Henry Brock, developed a mutually supportive working relationship. As a result, they became leading illustrators of historical subjects, and especially of eighteenth and early nineteenth-century literature. For many generations, the Brock family farmed an area lying a dozen miles to the south of Cambridge. This tradition was broken by Edmund Brock who, as a reader in medieval and oriental languages for Cambridge University Press, lived in London and later in Cambridge itself. In turn, none of his seven children returned to farming. Of those that embarked on some kind of artistic career, the most successful were the illustrators, Charles and Henry. Charles Brock was born in Holloway, London, on 5 February 1870.
Soon after the birth of the second son, Richard, the family moved to Cambridge, and Henry was born there on 11 July 1875. Brought up in a strict Protestant tradition, the children went regularly to the Zion Chapel and attended the local Church of England School before moving to Cambridge Grammar School. Despite their great aptitude for art from an early age, neither Charles nor Henry attended art school. Charles studied for a while under the sculptor, Henry Wiles, but Henry developed through his close association with Charles who, even after leaving his family home, returned to work in its studio every day. Charles illustrated books from 1891 and established himself three years later with an edition of Gulliver’s Travels published by Macmillan. In the same year, Henry embarked on his career by working with Charles on the illustrations to a history textbook, also for Macmillan. This encouraged the publisher to commission both Charles and Henry as contributing illustrators to a new project, the ‘Macmillan Standard Novels’, alongside such established figures as Hugh Thomson. In 1895, Charles came into direct competition with Thomson when he was asked to illustrate Austen’s Pride and Prejudice for this series. In the same decade, Charles and Henry also illustrated an edition of Austen’s novels (Dent), so impressing their vision of eighteenth and nineteenth century England upon the public. At the turn of the century, the Brock family moved into Arundine House, making it their permanent home and soon building a large studio in its garden. Here the brothers assembled the large collection of ‘props’ that enabled them to develop a degree of historical accuracy much greater than that of their model Hugh Thomson, and so dominate the so-called ‘costume’ school. Though they worked side by side, and often illustrated different editions of the same book, Charles and Henry still managed to project distinct artistic personalities. Charles produced a delicate, often broken, line that retained something of the quality of his original sketches; it is perhaps best exemplified by his drawings for The Works of Thackeray and The Works of Lamb (both 1902-3). Against this delicacy may be set Henry’s strong sense of design, put to good use in a large number of cartoons for Punch (1905-60) and posters for the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company (1920s). If Charles was the more technically versatile, sometimes working in oil, Henry tackled a wider range of subjects, being well known as an illustrator of stories of adventure (including those by Stevenson and Scott). And despite their affinity and mutual affection, Henry had to continue to work long after the death of his brother. Charles died in Cambridge on 28 February 1938, while Henry retired only in 1950, when his eyesight began to fail. He died on 21 July 1960. The brothers had both been elected to the membership of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours, Henry in 1906, Charles two years later, in 1908.