October/November 1978 | Volume 29, Issue 6
A. B. Frost faithfully recorded the woodland pursuits of himself and his affluent friends
Arthur Burdett Frost, who at the turn of the century was perhaps the best-known and most popular illustrator in America, sketched and painted his way from relatively humble beginnings to hobnobbing with the leisure class. A significant element in this ascension was his lifelong fascination with sports of field and stream: he often hunted and fished with gentlemen of affluence, and depicted their passionate pursuits on paper and canvas with such accuracy and verve that they came to consider him the sportsman-artist par excellence.
A. B. Frost (as he signed himself) was born in Philadelphia in 1851. He worked as an apprentice engraver and lithographer as a boy, and studied briefly with Thomas Eakins at the Philadelphia Academy of the Fine Arts. In his early twenties he was lucky enough to be chosen to illustrate a humorous book by Max Adeler, Out of the Hurly Burly (1874), which became an international best seller. The resulting publicity got him a job at the New York Graphic , where he drew political cartoons and may have invented the donkey as the symbol of the Democratic party (some credit Frost’s artist friend Thomas Nast). Joining the staff of Harper’s Weekly in 1878, he turned more to the illustration of various manly sports including, naturally, hunting and fishing. His range during his long and industrious career was wide, however, and with the general public his fame hung chiefly on his charming pictures for Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus and His Friends (1892) and its enormously popular sequels. He also painted more formal illustrations for such magazines as Scribner’s and Collier’s .
Frost’s hunting and fishing paintings, which are well exemplified here, combined close attention to details of equipment, costume, the terrain, and the quarry, with a peculiarly vivid sense of the immediate moment and the personalities of the sportsmen and even their dogs. Frost died in 1928, a lover of rod and gun all of his life.