Monday, November 07, 2011

Walter Wyles' Women

* An addendum to Friday's post on UK paperback cover art rates, by guest author Bryn Havord

At the beginning of the 1970s, although Walter Wyles was one of Britain's leading illustrators, he was faced with similar problems facing all illustrators; in simple terms; a declining market. With less and less fiction being published in women's magazines which had been his main source of income, he concentrated on book publishing, producing a substantial number of covers in the '70s, '80s and '90s.


His work was popular with the leading authors of the day, and he specialised in painting women's heads, which were very well received, not only here in the UK, but in Scandinavian countries such as Norway, Denmark and Sweden. He was able to produce highly finished work which fitted the changing needs of the art directors and art editors.


It was fortunate that the books that he had worked on sold very well, thereby satisfying the demands of the increasingly powerful and influential marketing and sales executives. His clients were especially pleased that he didn't use professional models, but what they called "real women". I'm not sure where he found them all, but his sons Nick and Glyn seemed to have a regular supply of nubile young women willing to pose!


Together with some of the other illustrators represented by his agent, they rented a studio every Friday night for what they called "evening classes". The idea was that they should employ models from all walks of life, so they could let themselves go and be really painterly, as a relief from the constraints of commercial illustration. Here are two of my favourites: Marje who was a character actress...


... and one of the Chelsea Pensioners, who were old soldiers who lived, and still do, at The Royal Hospital in London's Chelsea. They are still very much a part of the London scene around town in their distinctive bright red uniforms.


Walter was also a successful portrait painter at the time, and even now at 86 years-of-age, he accepts the odd commission, and paints every day.

(Below, a selection of Walter Wyles' original art from various paperback covers)











* Previous posts on Walter Wyles' career by Bryn Havord:

Walter Wyles: " oldest and closest friend."

Walter Wyles: "he decided that he wanted to be a magazine illustrator"

Walter Wyles: "... at the top of his profession"

Walter Wyles: Across the Pond

Walter Wyles: "...something out of the ordinary"

* Walter Wyles Illustration Archive on Flickr


  1. Steve2:48 PM

    Beautifully painted and way better than a photo.
    My problem here is with the shallowness of art direction,are there no dramatic moments in these books worthy of depiction?
    Is a close-up of someone's face adequate to sum up the contents of an entire novel?
    It seems to me that this lack of imagination has conspired to make the illustrator almost irrelevant to publishers.

  2. It's amazing how gorgeous these paintings look when they're removed from the context of the gaudy romance paperback covers. I can't think of the last time I picked up an old romance book and said "Great painting!". But they ARE lovely.

  3. The women are a bit scary, don't you think? I'm not sure I would want to date them. The one with the three heads atop one another is fantastic but creepy. They look like sirens. But the illustrations are quite nice and show incredible skill, style and sensibility. Its rare to see this kind of lighter color scheme, isn't it? Seems unusual.