George A. Williams (1875-1932)

George A. Williams (1875-1932)

While the name Charles Dickens is globally known, few nostalgic lovers of his work are familiar with one of the greatest illustrators of his novels, George A. Williams. A Newark-born artist, Williams captured such Dickens characters as Mr. Pickwick and Ebenezer Scrooge with a skilled narrative hand refined by his studies at the Art Students League of New York. Kenyon Cox, Douglas Volk and William Merritt Chase were among his instructors, and Williams displayed an impressive talent as both a painter and illustrator. In 1897 his watercolors were accepted by the American Watercolor Society Annual Exhibition, and Williams gave up his pursuit of a business career to devote himself entirely to fine art.

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Williams’ earliest employment in the arts was as an illustrator for Century Magazine. Later, he added contract work as an illustrator for English classics, and wrote and illustrated his own series of “Boy’s Books,” including The Boy’s Book of Pirates and the Great Sea Rovers and The Boy’s Book of Indians. The majority of these publications date to between the years of 1905 and 1912, which when paired with his later exhibition history, suggests that Williams outgrew his impressive career as an illustrator and turned to that of a professional artist. After a break between the years 1898 and 1914, he actively exhibited watercolors, oils, and miniatures on ivory at the Art Institute of Chicago, showing almost exclusively Maine subject matters during the late nineteen-teens when he settled in the coastal village of Kennebunkport. Williams also participated in Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts exhibitions and even won a silver medal at the Panama-Pacific Exhibition of 1915. Both the Milwaukee Art Institute and the Minneapolis Institute of Art honored him with solo-shows during his lifetime, and the Newark Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago added his works to their permanent collections.

Williams worked to promote the arts as one of a small group of active members of the Newark Sketch Club. He also passed along his artistic knowledge to future painters in his essays on American marine artists and on the engraver of John James Audubon’s Birds of America, Robert Havell. 

References: Maine Library Bulletin, Vol. XIII, 1927; Vose Artist’s files, uncited article (information appears to be from James R. Williams, grandson of the artist); Who Was Who in American Art; AIC; PAFA Records; Gerdts Art Across America

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