The much loved British artist William Heath Robinson is famous for his humorous drawings featuring fiendishly complicated machines undertaking relatively simple tasks.

But these drawings number only part of his vast output, and the Simon Heneage collection – the last of this size in private hands – illustrates the full brilliance and diversity of the artist's work. Heath Robinson trained at the Royal Academy Schools and continued to work as a landscape painter all his life. In the 1890s, however, he began to undertake commercial work as an illustrator of stories and poems in order to make a living. In the early 1900s he also began to sell humorous drawings to magazines, the first one featuring a contraption appearing in The Sketch in December 1908. During the First World War Heath Robinson created light satires on the national characteristics of Germans, and began to work in advertising too. His adverts include imaginative drawings to promote Hovis, Mackintosh's toffee and Johnnie Walker whisky. In the 1930s he also illustrated a series of How to… books, humorous volumes on subjects such as How to Live in a Flat and How to be a Motorist. During the Second World War he brought a lightness to dark times with comic drawings about life on the Home Front, and with books such as How to Build a New World. The Simon Heneage collection, acquired from the artist's estate in the early 1970s, illustrates the full breadth of these different aspects of Heath Robinson's output. It now almost doubles the holdings of the William Heath Robinson Trust, providing it with wider opportunities to show this ingenious artist's work when its new museum opens in Pinner in 2016.

This work was acquired with assistance from the Wolfson Foundation.


Estate of the late J.C. Robinson; Simon Heaneage. Featured in Autumn 2015 AQ.

Back to top