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A 1901 photogravure illustration by W. E. F. Britten for Alfred Tennyson's poem St. Simeon Stylites, based on Simeon Stylites, the first of the pillar saints.

William Edward Frank Britten, or W. E. F. Britten (b. 1848 or 1857 – d. 1916) was a British painter and illustrator. It is known that he worked in London, England starting in 1873 and that he stayed in the city until at least 1890. Britten's work ranged in style from to traditional Victorian to Pre-Raphaelite, and his artistic medium ranged from paintings to book illustrations. His paintings have mostly been praised by critics with his illustrations having been treated as either neutral or favourable by reviewers.



Little is known about Britten's life, and it is not certain as to if he was born in 1848 or 1857.[1] Of his life, it can only be certain that his began to flourish as a painter after 1873, when he began to hold exhibitions for his works at the Royal Society of British Artists. He spent his time working in London and worked as an illustrator and a contributor to magazines. It is known that he was working in the Pimlico area in 1890.[2] He died in 1916.[3]


Britten followed in the neoclassical tradition of Frederick Leighton and Albert Moore.[3] In terms of actual productions, he ranged from working as a decorative artist to paintings. In style, his designs varied from those that followed the tradition of Victorian classicism to those that were influenced by Pre-Raphaelite paintings. His works are located at the Victoria and Albert Museum.[2]

Britten illustrated the last published poem of Christina Rossetti before her death for the 1894 issue of Magazine of Art.[4] Also, he served as illustrator for:

Critical reception

A contemporary review by Alfred Baldry, in referring to the ceiling panel work Britten created for the South Kensington Museum, says that they "deserve to be praised as true decorations properly conceived and rightly managed."[5] Another contemporary review by Rose Sketchy says that Britten uses a wash technique "with fluency, as is shown by his successful illustrations to Mr. Swinburne's 'Carols of the Year' in the 'Magazine of Art' in 1892-3. Since that time his version of 'Undine,' and illustrations to Tennyson's 'Early Poems,' have shown the same power of graceful composition and sympathey with his subject."[6]

Other reviews on the mentioning the Swinburne series appeared in the January, February, and May issues of The Critic, but they simply acknowledge Britten as the illustrator for that Swinburne's "December", "Carol", and "May". However, two of the reviews were more favourable. A 28 January 1893 review notes, "A sonnet by Swinburne, 'January,' is framed in an interesting drawing by W. E. F. Britten."[7] A review for 6 May 1893, a review claims, "In the series of pictures and sonnets of the months by Mr. W. E. F. Britten and Mr. Algernon Charles Swinburne, both poet and painter have done their best for April".[8]

In the 20th century, art historian Simon Houfe said that Britten "excelled as a decorative artist, placing his subjects in elaborate frames, the Shaftesbury Tribute in The Graphic of 185 is a good example."[2]


  1. ^ Wood, Newall, and Richardson 1995 p. 70
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Houfe 1981 p. 244
  3. ^ a b Weintraub 1989 p. 107
  4. ^ Kooistra 2002 p. 44
  5. ^ Baldry 1902 pp. 44–45
  6. ^ Sketchley 1903 p. 29
  7. ^ The Critic 1893 pp. 12, 120, 354, 53
  8. ^ The Critic 1893 p. 300


  • Anonymous. "The Fine Arts". The Critic: Issues 340-365. New York: The Critic Company: 1893.
  • Baldry, Alfred. Modern Mural Decoration. London: G Newnes, 1902.
  • Houfe, Simon. The Dictionary of British Book Illustrators and Caricaturists, 1800–1914. Woodbridge: Antique Collectors' Club, 1981.
  • Kooistra, Lorraine. Christina Rossetti and Illustration. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2002.
  • Sketchley, Rose. English Book-Illustration of To-Day. London: K Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co., 1903.
  • Weintraub, Stanley. Bernard Shaw on the London art scene, 1885-1950‎ University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1989.
  • Wood, Christopher; Newall, Christopher; and Richardson, Margaret. Victorian Painters. Woodbridge: Antique Collectors' Club, 1995.


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