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Friday, October 27, 2017

Henrique Alvim Corréa

Most of us have, no doubt, heard of H.G. Wells; but few of us know about the man whom he credited with making his most famous book famous--his illustrator Henrique Alvim Correa.
There are many different factors involved as to whether an artist becomes historically memorable. Quite apart from the element of technical skills, there is the vision needed to take an object, scenario, or theme and give in life on paper or in some sculptural medium. These two skills we often lump together. We call it "talent." In the world of art, talent is a "given." Without it in sufficient quality, the artist will go nowhere. All else involves persistence, daring, drive, good health, intelligence, wise judgement, and sometimes, just plain dumb luck. These latter items, of course, are not limited just to art, but are relevant to many other pursuits. Taken alone though, none of them items will lead and artist to success. The life of the Brazilian artist, Henrique Alvim Corrêa is a near-perfect study as to the difficulties artists face in flirting with art history.
The man of the three-legged war machine.
In 1876, Alvim Corrêa was born into a wealthy Rio de Janeiro family. His father was a prominent lawyer who died when his son was seven years old. The boy's mother remarried a wealthy banker in 1888, who then moved the family to Lisbon in 1892. Alvim Corrêa was 16 years old at the time. A year later they settling permanently in Paris. When Alvim Corrêa turned eighteen, he began his formal instruction in art under the military painter Édouard Detaille. Military themes had been extremely popular in French art since the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871, which France lost). Corrêa followed in his instructor's footsteps, exhibiting well-received military paintings in the Paris Salons of 1896 and 1897.

Henrique Alvim Corrêa, based on H. G. Wells' 1906 
The War of the Worlds 
Then, in 1898, Alvim Corrêa suddenly quit his studies and, against the wishes of his family, married 17-year-old Blanche Fernande Barbant, daughter of the engraver Charles Barbant, who was himself a successful illustrator of books by Jules Verne, among other authors. The newlyweds moved to Brussels where their first child was born later that year. Cut off from his family’s financial support and connections in the art world, Alvim Corrêa had to scrape together whatever commercial work—advertisements (even house painting)—he could find to make do. By 1900 his finances were stable enough that he was able to move his family to Boitsfort (a suburb of Brussels) where he opened a studio.

The title page from the deluxe edition of H.G. Well's novel, War of the Worlds, illustrated by Henrique Alvim Corrêa.

Corrêa's Martian can of worms.
Although still virtually unknown as an artist, Corrêa hustled persistently to exhibit his work. He developed a style of strong contrasts and dynamic movement in both drawing and paint-ing, trying his hand at surreal dream-scapes, caricatures, action figures such as military men or working wo-men. Corrêa's landscapes often fea-tured real and fictional themes of eroticism and violence individually and in combination. Today we would likely categorize him as a fantasy artist. In 1903 he read H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds whereupon he decided to draw his vision of Wells’ Martians, which fit quite well with the recurring themes in his private work. Then, entirely unsolicited, Alvim Corrêa took his handful of drawings to London where he showed them to Mr. Wells. The two were complete strangers, yet the author was so impressed with Corrêa's artwork that he invited him to illustrate the upcoming special edition of The War of Worlds by Belgian publisher L. Vandamme.

Notice the resemblance of Corrêa's three-legged war machine to the AT-AT war machines in STAR WARS: The Empire Strikes Back.
Alvim Corrêa returned to Boitsfort where he spent two full years working on the illustrations. At the same time, he organized a solo exhibition of his own work which opened in 1905 and garnered him significant recognition. Corrêa went back to London that year to show Wells the finished group of 32 drawings. Wells loved them and in 1906, they were published in the large format, illustrated French edition of The War of the Worlds. Each of the 500 copies of the special edition was numbered and signed by Henrique Alvim Corrêa. Wells later said of the illustrations: “Alvim Corrêa did more for my work with his brush than I with my pen.”

Might we call this Wells' World War Zero?
With an accolade such as that from one of the most popular authors of the era, Corrêa might well have been on his way to fame and fortune as a science-fiction illustrator. Wells alone could have kept him busy, having written eight books. Unfortunately Corrêa, spent much of 1905 in Switzerland where he had surgery in an attempt to stop the tuberculosis torturing his lungs and intestines. The good news was that he recovered from the surgery. The bad news was, he still had TB. The powerful drive that made him a successful illustrator could not overcome tuberculosis. He was forced to slow down his work schedule considerably, yet even at that, Alvim Corrêa continued to produce unique art, like Visions Erotiques, a collection of 20 erotic drawings entwining sex and death that he published under the pseudonym Henri Lemort (Henry the dead) in 1908. In 1910 he put together another exhibition of his work, this time alongside that of other artists.

For those who have read the book, can you follow the storyline from Corrêa's illustrations?
Alvim Corrêa worked almost to the day he died in 1910 at the age of thirty-four. Yet, outside of a small circle of rare book collectors and Wells connoisseurs, Corrêa remained virtually unknown, even in his own country. In the early 1970s Brazilian art historians brought him back into the limelight as a native son of great talent and innovation. Over the following decades his work, especially the Wells drawings, went on display at museums all over Brazil and elsewhere. His original drawings for The War of the Worlds remained in his family until 1990 when 31 of the original 32 were sold to a private collector, along with a poster announcing the special edition (top) and a charming note Wells wrote to Alvim Corrêa in November of 1903 in which he told Corrêa he was “very glad indeed you like my Moon Men.”

Michael Condron's sculpture of a Wellsian Tripod,
in Woking, Surrey.
The Brazilian public did not know Corrêa's work until the mid-1960s for several reasons. First, because his career was limited to Europe, and the fact that he died very young. Then, during the German invasion of Brussels in 1914, his studio was looted and his work destroyed. Also, to make matters worse, in 1942, a German ship transporting his original graphic works and the brass printing plates to Brazil was sunk. This explains the late rediscovery of his works. Although still little known, Corrêa's illustrations for Wells' classic have been influential as the book has been republished with illustrations by other artist who have been strongly influenced by him. Even TV and motion picture versions of Wells' The War of the Worlds owe much to Corrêa original vision.

Just for fun, click on the arrow (above) and listen in on the most famous adaption of H.G. Wells sci-fi classic, the 1939 radio broadcast of Orson Welles' (no relation to H.G.) Mercury Theater that, despite warnings, seemed so real as to cause a major panic on the U.S. east coast--THE MARTIANS ARE COMING! THE MARTIANS ARE COMING!


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