Henry Patrick Raleigh captured the decadence of the Jazz Age with colorful images that wowed socialites and thrilled the literati. The illustrator died broke and forgotten, but his grandson has revived his legacy with a lavish tribute.
Interior designer Chris Raleigh is probably best known for creating the high-decibel concept for the Orlando Hard Rock Cafe, a brassy homage to rock ‘n’ roll housed in a structure shaped like a Fender Stratocaster guitar.
Raleigh’s specialty is creating themed interiors for restaurants, shops and hotels. But two years ago, Raleigh the designer became Raleigh the curator, single-handedly engineering a museum exhibit devoted to the works of his grandfather, Henry Patrick Raleigh.
The exhibit, called The Confident Line, ran for several months at the Maitland Art Center. It was accompanied by a lavish coffee-table book of the same name, which Raleigh designed and published.
Illustrations for the exhibit and the book were culled from Raleigh’s own collection, which includes 300 original drawings and etchings and more than 5,000 pages foraged from vintage periodicals.
Henry Raleigh, born in poverty in Portland, Oregon, became the nation’s highest-paid illustrator by chronicling the opulent lifestyles of the fabulously wealthy.
Most of the work in The Confident Line dates from 1910-1940, decades during which fiction captured the public’s imagination, not just in books but in periodicals such as McCall’s, Colliers, Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan and The Saturday Evening Post.
Henry Raleigh captured the spirit of those stories so well that the era’s top writers often asked their editors to commission him to illustrate their stories.
He collaborated with such literary luminaries as Agatha Christie, H.G. Wells, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Stephen Vincent Benét and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
“Honestly, I think they’re the best illustrations I’ve even seen!” Fitzgerald wrote after seeing the renderings for a short story of his called “The Russett Witch,” which ran in Cosmopolitan in 1921.
“Fitzgerald was the writer who epitomized the ‘Great Gatsby’ era, and he thought my grandfather was the best at capturing the high-society look,” says the illustrator’s grandson.
What Fitzgerald might not have known was how earthy, even grisly, Henry Raleigh’s early career was. One of his tasks during a stint at the San Francisco Chronicle was to visit the morgue to sketch the faces of murder victims, whom he described as “promising young corpses.”
If the crime was an especially lurid one, the face would then be incorporated into a sketch reenacting the murder.
Henry Raleigh’s career would eventually include not only story illustrations but propaganda posters for the government during World War I and, in later years, advertising campaigns for perfumes, coffee and other products.
Eventually, as photographs supplanted illustrations in periodicals, his skills became less marketable. Disillusioned, lonely and suffering from cancer, he committed suicide in 1944 by jumping out of the sixth-floor window of a Times Square hotel.
The Confident Line can be purchased online at blurb.com.