Charles Dickens artist's sketches found in school textbook

Leech sketch Image copyright University of Leicester
Image caption The discovery of the sketches by John Leech was down to some "superb detective work", the University of Leicester said

Schoolboy doodles by the Victorian artist who first illustrated Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol have been discovered.

John Leech was already a successful artist when he drew the miser Ebenezer Scrooge in 1843.

Unseen sketches by Leech found by chance in a friend's Latin textbook, from when he was at Charterhouse School in Surrey, have now been found.

They are on show at the University of Leicester along with his other work.

Image copyright Commons
Image caption An illustration of Scrooge meeting Marley's ghost is among John Leech's most recognisable work

Margaret Maclean, from the university's special collections department, said the illustrations were found by accident in late 2016.

"I was looking at books for another exhibition and found this one full of drawings and doodles," she said.

"It was obvious these were way beyond the normal schoolboy standard, so we looked into who might have made them."

The book in fact belonged to a friend of Leech - thought to have been George Berney.

Drawing Dickens

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Hablot Knight Browne, the artist most associated with Dickens, illustrated Nicholas Nickleby
  • Charles Dickens' first book was Sketches by Boz, published in 1836. It was illustrated by celebrated political cartoonist George Cruikshank
  • While Cruikshank also worked on Oliver Twist, the battle for creative control saw the pair part. Cruikshank would later claim credit for ideas in Oliver Twist
  • Dickens was approached to provide words for illustrations by Robert Seymour but managed to reverse the relationship, writing Pickwick Papers, his first novel. Seymour killed himself after providing just two pictures in 1837
  • Hablot Knight Browne beat Leech to become the artist most associated with Dickens, illustrating 10 out of 15 of Dickens' major novels from 1836 to 1859, using the pen name Phiz

Source: Dickens Museum

Ms McLean added: "We know John Leech did not like his Latin and Greek classes so you can imagine him grabbing his friend's book and scribbling away.

"Even those done in 30 seconds while the teacher droned away show a vitality, an eye for character, which came through in his later work."

The sketches were believed to have been done by Leech based on comparisons with one of his textbooks, which is full of sketches.

"You can clearly see they are by the same hand - the style, the subject and feeling behind them is so similar," Ms Maclean said.

Image copyright University of Leicester
Image caption The sketches were discovered in a Latin text book thought to belong to a friend of John Leech

Dickens described Leech as "the very first Englishman who had made beauty a part of his art."

When Dickens' first illustrator killed himself, Leech was considered as a replacement but, while he was not selected, he was used for the author's Christmas books and they became lifelong friends.

The display will run until 31 July in the David Wilson Library.

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