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‘Asleep?’ cried Bob.‘Why-look here!’ ‘And look here’ cried Benny; “Here it comes!”; Binkie saved from Algol; Draco the Dragon; Dream Slight; The Visit to Cassiopoeia; Perseus returns; The Petrifaction of Ba; Sirius barks; ‘Gracious Mussy!’; Perseus and Andromeda; ‘My name’s Procyon’; Ba and Binkie.
Graham Robertson was a much loved friend of Burne-Jones and a passionate collector and supporter of the Pre-Raphaelites. He studied painting under Albert Moore and although his wealthy background meant he did not have to earn a living as an artist, he painted throughout his life.
In 1896, Robertson met the artist Arthur Melville and the two became great friends. Melville died suddenly in 1904, leaving his wife with a baby girl ‘Binkie’ who became Robertson’s muse for the next few years. Robertson explained: For a period I could paint no more, but fell back upon writing and making picture books for children – or rather one child … She soon installed as my model-chief, sitting to me for two portraits before she was six months old, and I began to write little plays for her – plays that grew out of her daily life.(1)
Binkie is one of the main characters of this series of fourteen watercolours, along with two of Robertson’s beloved bob-tail sheep dogs, Benny and his father Bob. In his autobiography Time Was, Robertson devotes an entire last chapter to his four dogs. Entitled My Most Notable Acquaintances, the chapter recounts the dogs’ lives, behaviour and conversations they held between themselves!(2) One of these dialogues is quoted below one of the illustrations: ‘Asleep?' cried Bob. 'Why-look here!' 'And look here' cried Benny. Both tender and humorous, the paintings clearly show the influence of Burne-Jones, who in fact also made many comical and heartfelt illustrations for children. The watercolours also call to mind James Barrie’s Peter Pan, which was first performed as a play in 1904.
(1) Time Was, The reminiscences of W. Graham Robertson, Hamish Hamilton London, 1945, Seventh Edition (first published 1931), page 308
(2) Ibid. pages 324-340
London, Peter Nahum at The Leicester Galleries, The Brotherhood of Ruralists and the Pre-Raphaelites, June - July 2005
Graham Robertson, Time Was, The reminiscences of W. Graham Robertson, Hamish Hamilton London, 1945, Seventh Edition (first published 1931), page 308