St John, J Allen

Tagged: Art

Working name of American artist James Allen St John (1872-1957). After a peripatetic upbringing with wealthy parents, St John settled in New York in 1891, received artistic training with the Art Students League, began painting portraits and landscapes for prominent figures in New York society, and briefly taught at the New York School of Art. In 1904 he relocated to his hometown of Chicago, wrote and illustrated one book, The Face in the Pool: A Faerie Tale (1905), and was soon providing covers and interior illustrations for other books from the A C McClurg Company.

In 1916, an assignment to illustrate Edgar Rice Burroughs's The Beasts of Tarzan (16 May-20 June 1914 All-Story Cavalier Weekly; 1916) brought him to the attention of Burroughs, who came to regard St John as the definitive Tarzan artist (though he was sometimes critical of the way he handled another Burroughs hero, John Carter of Barsoom). With the author's blessing, he then became the regular artist for all of the Burroughs books published by the company. To modern observers, St John's illustrations may seem as Victorian as Burroughs's stories, with noble heroes and pure, virginal heroines who sometimes stand as if they were posing for a photographer; they may also be disappointed by his muted colours and the lithe dimensions of his jungle hero, who can look frail in comparison to the more muscular renderings of recent artists. Still, St John could also convey violent yet graceful movement in a manner that still seems fresh and dynamic; few contemporary artists, for example, could improve upon his remarkable painting for the cover of Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar (18 November-16 December 1916 All-Story; 1919), depicting a sword-wielding Tarzan attacking a snarling lion at a moment when both are midair.

While St John continued illustrating Burroughs's books for the rest of the author's career, it is often forgotten that he also painted a number of covers for Chicago-based magazines, including Weird Tales and the Ziff-Davis magazines Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures, although these tended to be similar to his Burroughs covers (and, in some cases, they were illustrating Burroughs stories appearing in the magazines). Some of his covers did not fit this pattern, though, like his cover for the January 1943 issue of Amazing Stories, illustrating Robert Moore Williams's "The Lost Warship" (January 1943 Amazing Stories; 2010) with a striking depiction of a flying Dinosaur and aquatic dinosaur threatening a battleship. St John remained active until his death in 1957 and, in a sense, has remained active ever since, because his illustrations have regularly appeared on republications of Burroughs's novels. He has also been cited as an important influence on many illustrators of Fantasy, particularly later Burroughs interpreters like Roy G Krenkel and Frank Frazetta. [JG/GW]

James Allen St John

born Chicago, Illinois: 1 October 1872

died Chicago, Illinois: 23 May 1957

works

further reading

  • Darrell C Richardson. J. Allen St. John: An Illustrated Bibliography (Memphis, Tennessee: Mid-America Publishers, 1991) [bibliography with illustrations: pb/J Allen St John]
    • Darrell C Richardson. The Life and Work of J. Allen St. John (Memphis, Tennessee: Old Tiger Press, 2005) [biography with illustrations: possible vt or rev of above: subtitled "The J. Allen St. John Library of Illustration, Volume 1" though no other volumes have yet appeared: pb/J Allen St John]

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