Robinson was an English cartoonist and illustrator, best-known for the complicated and outlandish inventions he portrayed, which has resulted in his name entering the language.
William Heath Robinson was born on 31 May 1872 into a family of artists. From 1887, he studied at Islington Art School for three years, before moving to the Royal Academy. He wanted to become a landscape painter but, realising this would not support him, he initially concentrated on book illustration. By 1899, he had illustrated an edition of Cervantes' 'Don Quixote', and another of 'The Arabian Nights'. In 1900, he illustrated an edition of the poems of Edgar Allan Poe, and in 1902 he wrote his first book, 'The Adventures of Uncle Lubin', for the first time enjoying complete artistic license. He also worked on an edition of the writings of Rabelais, and published another book, 'Bill the Minder', which was an enormous success.
'The Sketch' and 'The Tatler' regularly published his work and his cartoons of crazy inventions soon captured the public imagination. Essentially he was caricaturing the age of the machine and the self-importance of some of the people caught up in that age - creating complex inventions that achieved absurdly simple results, while the audience looked on solemnly. The term 'Heath-Robinson contraption' came into official dictionary use in around 1912. However, the artist was not pleased to be pigeonholed as simply a cartoonist, particularly as this categorisation intensified in the public's mind - he took his other work just as seriously, and wanted to extend his repertoire further.
During World War One, Heath Robinson produced many gently satirical cartoons, which proved popular with officers and soldiers alike, showing unlikely secret weapons. World War Two, however, saw three of his sons in the forces. His cartoons featured the enemy less often, as he felt the Nazis to be too terrible to be portrayed by his gentle humour. In September 1944 he went into hospital for an exploratory operation, and died on 13 September.
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