By Teresa Panza
London-native John Leech was born August 29, 1817 to Irish parents who ran a humble coffee shop. Leech’s father had been a skilled illustrator in the past but never pursued his talents, so when he recognized his young son’s inherited ability to sketch, he made a sincere effort to encourage and support him.
When Leech was three years old, the renowned illustrator and sculptor John Flaxman visited the family one evening. After noticing the young boy expertly wielding a crayon, Flaxman prophesized to the family, “Do not let him be cramped with lessons in drawing; let his genius follow its own bent; he will astonish the world."
At the age of sixteen, he began to study medicine at Saint Bartholomew’s hospital where his elders again praised him for his illustrating skills in anatomy. Soon it became clear to Leech that he was perhaps not best suited for a career in medicine, so at eighteen, he decided to pursue a vocation in art.
Leech’s first published work was in an 1835 publication entitled Etchings and Sketching. These small pamphlets featured Leech’s drawings of typical London street scenes displaying comedic characters such as street musicians and constables.
A unique opportunity presented itself to Leech in 1836 after the suicide of Charles Dickens’ illustrator Robert Seymour. Knowing that he and Seymour shared a similar style, Leech decided to submit his portfolio to Dickens in hopes of securing commissioned work for Dickens’ latest novel, The Pickwick Papers. Though he was rejected for the project, this correspondence was the spark that would later start a close and lasting friendship between the two.
Over the next several years, Leech remained productive, working on numerous projects. He created and illustrated humorous pamphlets such as The Children of Mobility, Comic Latin Grammar, and The Fiddle-Faddle Fashion Book. Most notable of his early work were his drawings for the popular magazine Bell's Life in London.
In 1841, Leech’s artistic career changed drastically when Mark Lemon and Henry Mayhew proposed that he come and work for their new “humorous journal”. That magazine turned out to be Punch, which would skyrocket Leech’s reputation to the pinnacle of important illustrators and caricaturists.
The illustrations done by Leech for the British magazine were instantly popular amongst readers for their brutally honest yet poignantly sensitive depictions of the Victorian era class systems. Over the course of his 23 year partnership with Punch, he created 3,000 drawings and over 500 cartoons which supported the magazine in becoming the institution that it is considered today.
In addition to his contributions to Punch, Leech was finally able to make the connection with Charles Dickens that he strove for earlier in his career. After being recommended by a mutual friend and artist, George Cruikshank, Dickens agreed to have Leech create four wood etchings for his latest short story, A Christmas Carol. These iconic illustrations were perfectly suited for Dickens’ writing style, which like Leech’s drawings, were humorous yet allegorical in nature.
Leech’s work in caricatures, political cartoons, and illustrations were heralded for their unique ability to portray the every-man in an honest yet perfectly exaggerated fashion. Author John Harvey said about Leech’s style: “(He) demonstrates in every line he draws a more seeing eye. He has noticed how men tilt when moving and slump when sat, how they brace themselves, bend, and let themselves go; and he has noticed and noted innumerable faces and expressions.”
After Leech befriended Dickens, they along with the co-founders of Punch would often holiday throughout the British countryside. While visiting the seashore on the Isle of Wight, Leech was struck violently by a wave and suffered a severe head injury. In response to the subsequent swelling of Leech's cranium, his doctor prescribed, ironically, to have leeches placed on his temples to draw out the excess blood. This was of course in vain, and he passed away October 27th 1864 at the age of 47.
Leech’s work will forever be associated with the iconic Punch magazine and A Christmas Carol, but what truly lasts in the memories of art lovers is not the publications to which he was tied. The gentle nature of Leech’s satire made his work not only more effectual, but allowed it to retain a timeless quality that makes his etchings and illustrations just as pertinent and evocative today as they were during Victorian England.
Quotes about John Leech
"This death of poor Leech (I suppose) has put me out woefully. Yesterday and the day before I could do nothing; seemed for the time to have quite lost the power; and am only by slow degrees getting back into the track to-day," - Charles Dickens
From The Life of Charles Dickens by John Forster, Volume 6, published by Bernhard Tauchnitz, 1874 - 302 pages.
ON THE DEATH OF THE LATE JOHN LEECH.
Who shall supply thy place, or fill the niche
Now vacant by thy loss, lamented Leech?
No touch is left like thine so apt to teach
Its world-wide lesson, aye, and oft to preach,
With power and pathos - for within the reach
Of thy broad Art, more eloquent than speech,
There liv'd a language, understood by each
And all the same, still true, beyond impeach,
To Nature: the irreparable breach
Thy death has made, no tongue of mine can tell,
Since millions hence must weekly miss the spell
And charm connected with the monogram, J.L.
Nov. 4th, 1864
From Rustic Studies in the Westmorland Dialect; with other scraps from the sketch book of an artist, by William Bowness, published by Whittaker & Co. - 155 pages, no illustrations.
JOHN LEECH OBIIT OCTOBER XXIX MDCCCLXIV ÆTAT 46.
"The simplest words are best where all words are vain. Ten days ago a great artist, in the noon of life, and with his glorious mental faculties in full power, but with the shade of physical infirmity darkening upon him, took his accustomed place among friends who have this day held his pall. Some of them had been fellow-workers with him for a quarter of a century, others for fewer years; but to know him well was to love him dearly, and all in whose name these lines are written mourn as for a brother. His monument is in the volumes of which this is one sad leaf, and in a hundred works which, at this hour, few will not remember more easily than those who have just left his grave. While society, whose every phase he has illustrated with a truth, a grace, and a tenderness heretofore unknown to satiric art, gladly and proudly takes charge of his fame, they, whose pride in the genius of a great associate was equalled by their affection for an attached friend, would leave on record that they have known no kindlier, more refined, or more generous nature than that of him who has been thus early called to his rest.”
From Papers of the Manchester Literary Club, Volume 16, Volume 14, published by John Heywood - 490 pages, 8 illustrations. Contains a 29 page section about John Leech by Harry Thornber which includes this obituary written by his friend, Shirley Brooks. It appeared in Punch on November 12, 1864.
Articles And Galleries About John Leech And His Work
Wikipedia || Wikimedia Commons || British Museum || Sketch archives from Punch || Internet Archive Book Images on Flickr || Royal Academy of Arts Collections - John Leech || Manchester Art Gallery || The Metropolitan Museum of Art || Spartacus Educational || The Victorian Web || PUNCH Magazine Cartoon Archive (Commercial)
Books with information about John Leech and books with illustrations by John Leech available to view on Google. Published prior to 1910.
1908 - Pictures by John Leech: First Series, by John Leech, published by Gowans & Gray, LTD. - 64 pages, 60 illustrations.
1899 - The Strand Magazine An Illustrated Monthly, Volume 17, edited by George Newnes, published by George Newnes, LTD.
Contains a 12 page article titled "A Peep into 'Punch.'" by J. Holt Schooling with 28 illustrations. The article mentions Leech and other members of the staff.
1899 - Mrs. Gamp with the Strolling Players: An Unfinished Sketch, by Charles Dickens, illustrated by F. W. Pailthorpe. Privately Printed - 21 pages, 4 illustrations.
George Cruikshank, John Leech and other illustrators are mentioned in the book.
1899 - The Life of William Makepeace Thackeray, Volume 1, by Lewis Melville, Herbert S. Stone and Company - 301 pages, 16 illustrations.
John Leach is mentioned on a number of pages.
1898 - Handley Cross Or Mr. Jorrocks' Hunt: With Illustrations by John Leech, Volume 1, by Robert Smith Surtees and John Leech, published by Lawrence and Bullen Limited - 288 pages, 40 illustrations.
1898 - Social Pictorial Satire, by George du Maurier, published by Harper & Brothers - 155 pages, 23 illustrations.
Contains information about John Leech and other caricature artists.
1897 - Horæ subsecivæ, Volume 3 by John Brown, MD published by Adam and Charles Black.
Contains a 77 page biography of John Leech with 1 illustration.
1897 - The Struggles and Adventures of Christopher Tadpole Albert Smith and Edmund Hodgson Yates, illustrated by John Leech Downey & Company - 599 pages, 26 illustrations.
1897 - Reminiscences of a Huntsman, by Grantley Fitzhardinge Berkeley, illustrated by John Leech and G.H. Jalland, published by Edward Arnold - 344 pages, 14 illustrations.
1897 - Spare Hours: 2d Series, by John Leech and Marjorie Fleming, and Other Papers by John Brown, published by Houghton, Mifflin and Company - 426 pages, 14 illustrations.
1896 - A little tour in Ireland, by An Oxonian (Samuel Reynolds Hole, Dean of Rochester) illustrated by John Leech, published by Edward Arnold - 255 pages, 38 illustrations.
1896 - Richard Savage, a romance of real life, by Charles Whitehead, illustrated by John Leech, published by Richard Bentley and Son - Authors, English - 466 pages, 19 illustrations.
1895 - The history of "Punch", by Marion Harry Alexander Spielmann, illustrations my George du Maurier, Sir John Tenniel, John Leech and many others, published by Cassell and Company - 592, over 145 illustrations.
This book is full of information about John Leech's work Punch.
1894 - Loose Sketches. An Eastern Adventure, Etc: by William Makepeace Thackeray and Abraham Lionel Isaacs with a Frontispiece by John Leech, published by Frank. T. Sabin - 113 pages, 1 illustration.
1893 - English Caricaturists and Graphic Humourists of the Nineteenth Century: How They Illustrated and Interpreted Their Times, by Graham Everitt, published by Swan Sonnenschein & Co. - Caricature - 427 pages, over 65 illustrations (3 by John Leech).
Leech is mentioned in a number of places throughout the book.
1893 - The Magazine of Art, Volume 16, edited by Marion Harry Spielmann, published by Cassell and Company - 48 pages. Contains a 6 page artical about John Leech with 6 illustrations.
1892 - Christmas Books, by Charles Dickens A reprint of the first editions with illustrations, and an introduction, biographical and bibliographical, by Charles Dickens the younger. 20 volumes, illustrated by John Leech, Daniel Maclise, Richard Doyle, Clarkson Frederick Stanfield, Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, John Tenniel and Frank Stone, published by Macmillan and Co. - 520 pages, over 60 illustrations.
1892 - Temple Bar: A London Magazine for Town and Country Readers, Volume 95, published by Bentley & Son - 588 pages, no illustrations.
Contains a 15 page remembrance of John Leech by F.G. Kitton.
1892 - Littell's Living Age, Volume 194, published by Littell and Co. - 824 pages, no illustrations in the main body of the book.
Contains a 9 page remembrance of John Leech adapted from Temple Bar.
1892 - A List of Works Containing Illustrations by John Leech, compiled by C.E.S. Chambers, published by William Brown - Private libraries - 22 pages, 0 illustrations.
1892 - All the Year Round a Weekly Journal, conducted by Charles Dickens, No. 160, Third Series, January 23, 1892, Vol 7 published by Chapman and Hall.
Contains a 4 page article titled "John Leech in Two Parts, Part 1" with no illustrations.
1892 - All the Year Round a Weekly Journal, conducted by Charles Dickens, No. 161, Third Series, January 30, 1892, Vol 7 published by Chapman and Hall.
Contains a 6 page article titled "John Leech in Two Parts, Part 2" with no illustrations.
1891 - John Leech: his life and work, Volume 1, by William Powell Frith and John Leech, Published by Bentley & Son - History - 268 pages, 69 illustrations.
1891 - John Leech, His Life and Work, Volume 2, by William Powell Frith with a portrait and numerous illustrations, published by Richard Bently and Son - 306 pages, 24 illustrations.
1890 - The Piscatorial Society's Papers, Volume 1, by The Piscatorial Society, John W. T. Morrison, Secretary, published by The Hansard Publishing Union - 126 pages.
John Leech is mentioned in 4 places.
1890 - Papers of the Manchester Literary Club, Volume 16, Volume 14, published by John Heywood - 490 pages, 8 illustrations.
Contains a 29 page section about John Leech by Harry Thornber.
1889 - The Laughing Philosopher: In the Middle of the Nineteenth Century, edited by Alfred Crowquill (Alfred Henry Forrester), illustrated by Alfred Crowquill, published by Gebbie & Co. - 329 pages, 140 illustrations.
Contains a few illustrations by George Cruikshank and John Leech.
1888 - My Autobiography and Reminiscences, Volume 3, by William Powell Frith, published by Richard Bentley and Son - 451 pages, no regular illustrations.
There is a 9 page chapter on John Leech and Leech is mentioned elsewhere in the book.
1887 - The history of Samuel Titmarsh and the great Hoggarty diamond etc. etc, by William Makepeace Thackeray, published by Smith, Elder - History - 316 pages, 37 illustrations.
Contains a 13 page chapter titled "John Leech's Pictures of Life and Character" which includes 1 illustration.
1887 - Cucumber Chronicles: A Book to be Taken in Slices, by Joseph Ashby-Sterry, published by Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington - 229 pages, 4 illustrations (not by Leech).
Contains examples of references to John Leech in popular culture. (search "John Leech")
1887 - Works, Ariadne Florentina. Six Lectures on Wood and Metal Engraving, by John Ruskin, published John Wiley & Sons - 171 pages, 20 illustrations.
Contains a 24 page section titled Lecture V. The Fireside John Leech and John Tenniel.
1886 - Thackeray's Complete Works, Volume 1, by William Makepeace Thackeray with illustrations by George Du Maurier, George Cruikshank, John Leech, George Grey Barnar and others published by George Routledge and Sons - 413 pages, 30 illustrations.
1884 - John Leech: Artist and Humourist: a Biographical Sketch, by Frederic George Kitton, published by George Redway - 130 pages, 2 illustrations.
1884 - Pictures of Life and Character: From the Collection of Mr. Punch, by John Leech published by D. Appleton - 92 pages, 83 illustrations.
1883 - The Art of England. Lectures given in Oxford, Lecture 1. Realistic Schools of Painting, by John Ruskin, D.C.L., L.L.D., published by George Allen.
Lecture 5 "The Fireside" covers John Leech and John Tenniel for 37 pages with no illustrations. Leech is also mentioned elsewhere in the book.
1882 - John Leech, and other papers. 4th edition, by John Brown, published by David Douglas - 465 pages, 8 illustrations.
1880 - Arrows of the Chace being collection of scattered letters, by John Ruskin, L.L.D., D.C.L., published by George Allen - 306 pages.
Contains a 4 page chapter about John Leech with no illustrations.
1880 - Rab: And Marjorie Fleming. John Leech. Thackeray's Literary Career, by John Brown, M.D. published by Houghton, Mifflin - 298 pages, 19 illustrations.
1879 - The Law Reports: Chancery Division, and on appeal therefrom in the Court of Appeal, and decisions in the Court of Protection, Volume 12, published by the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England and Wales.
Contains a claim by the Leech family against Messrs. Bradbury, Agnew, & Co. publishers to stop printing of "A Little Tour of Ireland". It appears the Leech family won the case. - 18 pages.
1879 - George Cruikshank: the Artist, the Humourist, and the Man: With Some Account of His Brother Robert. A Critico-bibliographical Essay by William Bates, published by Houlston and Sons - 94 pages, 23 illustrations by Cruikshank.
Mentions John Leech in a few places.
1878 - Benjamin Disraeli: Earl of Beaconsfield, K.G.: In Upwards of 100 Cartoons from the Collection of "Mr. Punch.", edited by Percival Leigh, illustrated by Richard Doyle, John Leech, John Tenniel and others, published by the Punch Office - Caricatures and cartoons - 104 pages.
1877 - John Leech by John Brown, published by J. R. Osgood and Company - 96 pages, 10 illustrations
1876 - The Yale Literary Magazine, Volume 41, Conducted by the Students of Yale College, published by Yale - 464 pages. Contains a 4 page section about John Leech.
1873 - The Giant Cities of Bashan; And Syria's Holy Places, by the Rev. F.L. Porter, A.M., illustrated by John Leech, published by Thomas Nelson & Sons - 366 pages, 6 illustrations.
1872 - The Works of William Makepeace Thackeray, Volume 11, by William Makepeace Thackeray, Published by James R. Osgood & Company - 688 pages, 1 illustrations.
Contains an 11 page section about John Leech entitled "John Leech's Pictures of Life and Character"
1870 - The Book of Ballads, edited by Bon Gaultier and Sir Theodore Martin, illustrated by Richard Doyle, John Leech, and Alfred Crowquill aka Alfred Henry Forrester, published by W. Blackwood and Sons - 256 pages, 60 illustrations.
1870 - Memories of My Time: Including Personal Reminiscences of Eminent Men George Hodder Tinsley - Authors, English - 420 pages, 3 illustrations. John Leech is mentioned in the book 15 times.
1869 - Catherine: A Story ; Little Travels. Etc. Etc. The Fitz-Boodle Papers, by William Makepeace Thackeray, published by Smith, Elder and Co. - 390 pages, 4 illustrations.
Contains a 12 page "critical review" titled "John Leech's Pictures Of Life And Character".
1869 - Puck on Pegasus by Harry Cholmondeley-Pennell, illustrated by John Leech, John Tenniel, Richard Doyle, Millais (Daniel Maclise?), Sir Noel Paton, Phiz (Hablot Knight Browne), Julian Portch, and M. Ellen Edwards. With a frontispiece by George Cruikshank, published by John Camden Hotten - 200 pages, over 80 illustrations.
1869 - Works of Charles Dickens: The Posthumous Papers of The Pickwick Club, by Charles Dickens Volume 1, with illustrations by Hablot Knight Browne, George Cruikshank, John Leech, and Sir John Tenniel, published by Fields, Osgood & Co. - 408 pages, 23 illustrations.
1869 - Carols of Cockayne, by Henry Sambrooke Leigh, illustrated by Alfred Concanen and John Leech, published by John Camden Hotten - 207 pages, 54 illustrations.
1866 - The Ingoldsby Legends or Mirth and Marvels, by Thomas Ingoldsby, Carmine Edition., with illustrations by George Cruikshank and John Leech, published by Richard Bentley - 468 pages, 9 illustrations.
1865 - Mira, A Tale: and Other Poems, by B. Burford Rawlings, published by Murray and Co. - 146 pages.
Contains a poem about the death of John Leech
1865 - The London Quarterly Review, Volume 24, by John Telford and Benjamin Aquila Barber (?), published by Henry James Tresidder - 562 pages, no illustrations.
Contains a section titled, Art. V. - Contributions to Punch, and other Works. By John Leech.
1864 - The Cornhill Magazine, No. 58, October 1864, published by Smith, Elder & Company - An 18 page biography of John Leech on pages 743 through 760 with 8 illustrations.
1864 - Baily's Magazine of Sports and Pastimes, Volume 9, published by A. H. Baily & Co. - 374 pages, 8 portraits.
Contains a 7 page section titled "THE LATE JOHN LEECH BY THE GENTLEMAN IN BLACK" written about John Leech upon his death.
1859 - The Flyers of the Hunt by John Mills office, illustrated by John Leech, published by "The Field" Office - 114 pages, 5 illustrations.
1857 - The Man of the World, or, Vanities of the Day, by Stephen Watson Fullom, illustrated by John Leech, published by Ward and Lock - 457 pages, 10 illustrations.
1857 - The Paragreens on a Visit to the Paris Universal Exhibition, by Giovanni Ruffini with illustrations by John Leech, published by Dix, Edwards & Co. - 230 pages, 4 illustrations
1855 - The Quarterly Review, Volume 96 Murray, December 1854 and March 1855, published by John Murray.
Contains article by John Leech credited as follows "Art III Pictures of Life and Character" By John Leech London 1854. 12 pages with no illustrations.
1852 - The Ingoldsby Legends or Mirth and Marvels by Thomas Ingoldsby, Second Series Fifth Edition, with illustrations by George Cruikshank and John Leech, published by Richard Bentley - 288 pages, 25 illustrations.
1849 - A Man Made of Money, by Douglas William Jerrold Published at the Punch Office, illustrated by John Leech - 283 pages, 12 illustrations.
1848 - The Comic History of England: by Gilbert Abbott À Beckett, illustrated by John Leech, Volume 2, published by Bradbury, Evans - 304 pages, 88 illustrations (10 full page color).
1848 - The Wassail-bowl, Volume 2, by Albert Smith, illustrated by John Leech, published by Richard Bentley - 249 pages, 43 illustrations.
1846 - Douglas Jerrold's Shilling Magazine: Volume 3, Illustrated by John Leech, published at the Punch office - 576 pages, 5 illustrations.
1846 - The Cricket on the Hearth, A Fairy Tale of Home, by Charles Dickens, illustrations by Daniel Maclise, Richard Doyle, William Clarkson Stanfield, Sir Edwin Henry Landseer and John Leech, published by Bradbury and Evans - 174 pages, 14 illustrations.
1845 - A Christmas Carol in Prose: Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, by Charles Dickens, illustrated by John Leech, published by Bradbury & Evans - 166 pages, 6 illustrations.
1845 - Douglas Jerrold's Shilling Magazine: Volume 1, Illustrated by John Leech, published at the Punch office - 572 pages, 6 illustrations.
1845 - The chimes: A Goblin Story of some bells that rang an old year out and a new year in, by Charles Dickens, illustrated by Daniel Maclise, Richard Doyle, John Leech, and William Clarkson Stanfield, published by Chapman and Hall - 175 pages.
1845 - The Comic English Grammar: A New and Facetious Introduction to the English Tongue, by Percival Leigh, illustrated by John Leech, published by Wilson and Company - 144 pages, 48 illustrations.
1844 - A Bowl of "Punch": Or, Selections from the London Charivari, by the editors of Punch, illustrated by John Leech and others, published G.B. Zieber & Company - 216 pages, over 65 illustrations.
1842 - Merrie England in the Olden Time, Volume 1, by George Daniel, illustrated by John Leech and Robert Cruikshank, published by Richard Bentley - 292 pages, 13 illustrations.
1842 - The Porcelain Tower: Or, Nine Stories of China, compiled by Thomas Henry Sealy, illustrated by John Leech, published by Lea and Blanchard - 322 pages, 10 illustrations.
1841 - Portraits of Children of the Mobility, by John Leech and Percival Leigh published by R. Bentley - 47 pages, 8 illustrations.
1840 - The Comic Latin Grammar: A New and Facetious Introduction to the Latin Tongue, by Percival Leigh, illustrated by John Leech, published by Charles Tilt - 163 pages.
1840 - Bentley's Miscellany, Volume 6, by Charles Dickens, William Harrison Ainsworth, Albert Smith J. M Lewer, and other authors, illustrations by George Cruikshank, Alfred Crowquill, and John Leech, published by Jemima M. Mason - 643 pages, 27 pages.
1840 - The Comic Eton Grammar: With ... Illustrations by John Leech, Alfred Crowquill aka Alfred Henry Forrester and others, published by Ward and Lock - 156 pages, 53 illustrations.
1838 - Life, Letters, and Speeches of Charles Dickens; with biographical sketches of the principal illustrators of Dickens' works Volume 1, by Charles Dickens and Gilbert Ashville Pierce, published by Houghton, Mifflin and Company - 430 pages, 19 illustrations.
Contains a 3 page biography of John Leech. No illustrations by Leech.