Chubby cheeks and cheeky smiles
Impish expressions, cute poses and wide-eyed innocence characterise Mabel’s most famous illustrations – used by advertisers , postcard makers and national magazines alike. Her poster in 1913 for the London Underground Hullo! Did you come by Underground? launched her to new heights of popularity amongst the wider public for the first time.
However, her characters were not modelled on her own children, who she adored, but ‘They just lived up to the ideas I had already been drawing for years.’ Her captions, which captivate and instantly amuse, are in fact aimed more at adults than children. ‘My idea is not so much to draw children for children, as to introduce them, if I may put it so, with all their lovable and comical ways to the grown-ups’. Mabel was in fact, one of the first people to express things that grown-ups were feeling through children, her daughter Peggy Wickham recalled. Peggy died in 1978, just before Mabel Lucie Attwell’s centenary exhibition in Brighton Museum.
In a similar vein to Keep Calm and Carry On, Mabel talks to adults with a lighthearted but deeply sympathetic understanding of the challenges that life throws at us all. It is this immediate empathy that found huge and widespread appeal amongst the British public: from busy mothers to homesick soldiers and the wider public.
But for all her easy appeal, her illustrations were the result of tireless hard work, dedication and a perfectionist eye. ‘My children look easy to draw, but they are not… I do many designs over and over again before I feel they are right.’