The Beggarstaffs – Don Quixote

In 1895, the Beggarstaffs were commissioned by Henry Irving to create a poster advertisement from  A Chapter from Don Quixote, which was a one-act play Irving was starring in. Using their unique collage technique of pasting cut-out shapes of flat colors onto a larger piece of paper, the Beggarstaffs illustrated Don Quixote sitting dignified on a white horse with a silhouette of a windmill behind him.

The Beggarstaffs’ Don Quixote is considered to be one of their most famous works, but also one of the turning points for their decline. While Irving did pay the artists for the commission, he rejected the poster design for reproduction simply because he disliked its boldness. The Beggarstaffs continued to face financial hardships because of advertisers like Irving rejecting their designs, and critics accused the Beggarstaffs for being careless or sloppy. Despite these criticisms, the duo’s Don Quixote is actually quite detailed, and a lot of thought and care was put into the design of the composition. In comparison to the majority of the Beggarstaffs’ other poster designs, the figure’s facial expression is fairly detailed and refined. With cut-out shapes on the figure’s eye and cheekbone area, the illustration conveys a dark and serious mood. As for the composition, there is a lot of subtle details that bring the whole poster illustration together as a whole. For example, the horse’s flank matches the horizontal axis in the middle of the poster, while the vertical midpoint can be traced from the figure’s mustache to his right ankle. For the Beggarstaffs, their intention with this piece (and with many of their other designs) was to have the viewer to be fully engaged with the work; but it seems that advertisers during this time period were not willing to do so. The Beggarstaffs were known for their reductive works, and despite massive artistic success they seemed to be too avant-garde for advertisers to comprehend.


Works Cited:

Bronkhurst, Judith. “1895: The Beggarstaffs’ ‘Annus Mirabilis’.” The Journal of the Decorative Arts Society 1890-1940, no. 2, 1978, pp. 3–13. JSTOR, Accessed 8 Apr. 2020.