1 - Little Erskine
Little Erskine was the stage name of Erskine Williams (picture 1) for his music hall act as a lightning cartoonist. A common turn in its day, it was a sensation in the hands of a cute child: Erskine was just eight when he made his debut in 1889. For his act he dashed off sketches of the era’s celebrities in the top theatres of London and Europe.
Erskine revealed a prodigious artistic talent from his earliest years, painting life-like faces and plants by the age of seven (picture 2). It prompted his father to place him on the stage. Money and fame quickly followed.
A wealth of surviving diaries, sketches and reviews chart Erskine’s strange life as a Victorian child performer. Yet he became tied to his act by his father’s financial needs and, in his teens, the sensitive boy behind his self-portrait (picture 3) could not develop his skills as he wanted.
2 - A Wild Rose
A perennial dream of fame in America turned to dust in the theatres of New York. Despite a successful tour in Australia, Erskine’s stage career was over. What becomes of the star who fades away ? This one moved on to be a technical illustrator, working on a new title called The Chauffeur. Picture 4 shows his cover for the Christmas 1911 edition. The Chauffeur closed soon after war broke out in 1914 and the next year Erskine enlisted in the British army.
Little Erskine is the working title of a forthcoming book his daughter is writing about his extraordinary, poignant life.