Arthur Burdett Frost

Our friend, Dick Cohen, Archivist-General, informed me that former club member Arthur Burdett Frost, his membership lasting from 1873 to 1883, resigned from our Club when he had decided to marry Emily Phillips and move to Long Island. It was proposed at that time to make Mr Frost an honorary member. “The members held Mr Frost in high esteem, but could see no special reason for bestowing this distinction upon him and the proposition was voted down. Mr Frost’s resignation was handed in at the next meeting, Jan 25th; there was some delay but it was finally accepted with the customary expression of regret.” Today Mr Frost’s artwork is being commemorated on a stamp, an illustration of Br’er Rabbit for the “Uncle Remus” tales by Joel Chandler Harris, probably the art work for which Mr Frost is most famous.

A. B. Frost is among twenty artists that had been recommended by our brethren in New York, the Society of Illustrators, to mark their Society’s 100th anniversary on 1st February 2001. On that date the U.S.P.S. issued a sheet of stamps in tribute to American illustrators. Nor is Mr Frost our only club member to be found included there. The Society of Illustrators had elected Arthur Burdett Frost, posthumously in 1985, to their Hall of Fame artists. Perhaps our club should now reconsider his honorary membership.

Born in Philadelphia the 17th January 1851, Mr Frost worked for a wood engraver and then a lithographer while sketching in the evenings. It was here in Philadelphia he launched his long career as an illustrator, beginning in 1874 as one of the contributors to Max Adeler’s book, ~Out of the Old Hurly-Burly or, Life in An Odd Corner~, a satire on American village life. The book sold over a million copies – and first editions can still be bought for less than twenty dollars. By 1876, he was working as a staff illustrator for “Harper’s Magazine”. There, under the tutelage of Charles Parsons, art director at Harper and Brothers, the largest publisher in the country at the time, Frost found himself a member of a select group of young illustrators who included Edwin Austin Abbey, Howard Pyle, and Charles Stanley Reinhart. It was the Golden Age of Illustration.

Mr Frost’s pen illustrations found homes in such magazines as Century, Scribner’s, Cosmopolitan, and Colliers. He illustrated stories and books by Frank R. Stockton, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and Andrew Lang. In addition to his illustrations, he produced numerous cartoon strips, caricatures, comic drawings, and serious sketches of shooters and golfers.

Through it all, Mr Frost wanted to be a painter. As with so many here at the Club, we find Mr Frost also attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He studied briefly with Thomas Eakins and makes an appearance in Eakins’ famous painting, “the Swimming Hole”. The young Frost is the redhead fellow. In the years 1877 to 1888, he studied in London, where he came to the attention of Lewis Carroll. Having returned to the States, in 1891 he was a pupil of impressionist painter, William Merritt Chase. Our wandering artist was living in Paris in 1906. Just a year later, Henri Matisse started art classes in Paris and Mr Frost was one of the artists to enroll. And while in Europe, Mr Frost learned that both his sons had tuberculosis.

Mr Frost returned to America in 1914. In 1917 his oldest son, Arthur Burdett Frost, Jr died before he was thirty. It was devastating to his father and cast a shadow over the remainder of his life. “We have no Christmas and never will have again,” he wrote with regards to his son, whose birthday was close to Christmas. In December of 1919 he moved again, taking residence in California, and in California he died on 22nd June 1928 at the home of his surviving son, John Frost, an artist and landscapist.

Arthur Burdett Frost will be better remembered as an illustrator with pen than for his paintings. He was always hindered by his colorblindness. It left his color work appearing washed-out. Still, he exhibited his works at the Paris Exposition of 1900.