Poe  Portraits

Felix O.C. Darley: 'Father of American Illustration'
Felix Octavius Carr Darley
  The Inimitable
Felix Octavius Carr Darley
'Father of American Illustration'


Felix O.C. Darley has been called the 'Father of American Illustration.' In that regard he was very much a revolutionary in art, like John Sartain, who is known as the 'Father of Mezzotint Engraving.' The illustrations of F.O.C. Darley are known by everyone all over the world, even though most people have never heard his name. It was Darley who created the images of Santa Claus that have become iconographic in our culture. His illustrations for the first edition of "A Visit from St. Nick," also known as, "The Night Before Christmas," published in 1879, have become the images of "Saint Nick" that are so prevalent in our culture.
Felix Darley's illustrations appear in the books of practically every important writer of the 19th century. He way close friends with Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, and Charles Dickens, who stayed at Darley's Claymont, Delaware residence during his visits to America.



Darley's Connection to Poe
That it was Poe who first 'discovered' Darley and took the shy young artist under his wing, is fact. But it is my contention that because of the strong familial ties among the Darley, Poe and Sully acting families, that Poe and Darley's relationship was most likely life-long. Darley was not only one of the closest friends of Poe's life, but they were a mutual admiration society. Indeed, it was Poe who gave Darley his start as a professional illustrator. It is also well documented that F.O.C. Darley signed on with Poe to be the principal illustrator for Poe's projected magazine project, "The Stylus." Indeed, Darley illustrated many works for Poe, including the "Gold Bug," and in 1885, "The Bells." I believe it is very safe to say that Poe and Felix Darley loved each other dearly, and that their bond remained unbreakable beyond death.

 
Poe by Francis Darley, FOC Darley's brother
Poe by Francis Darley, FOC Darley's brother


Felix O.C. Darley's 'The Bells'
Felix O.C. Darley's 'The Bells'
 
Darley and the Poe Circle
Felix Darley was a shy, but very funny man, introverted and even rather unapproachable at times. As you can see from his photo, he was extremely handsome, the 'Paul Newman of his time.' But as T.D. English points out quite rudely in his "Biography of Darley," Darley stuttered when nervous, a Darley family affliction, and was indeed painfully shy. Still, he was honest, brilliant and formed the nexus for the entire Poe circle in Philadelphia. Everyone was in love with Felix Darley. If they weren't in love with him personally, they were in love with his startlingly fresh, new approach to illustration.

Darley was 'the Darling' of the Poe/Lippard/Hirst/Sartain coterie, no doubt about it. Poe and Lippard made supporting Felix Darley, enhancing his prestige and fame, a top priority.
Their devotion to him was as unceasing as his was for them. This same clique, while they embraced 'Darley as their darling,' gave their strongest accolades to Thomas Sully, not only as a fine painter, but as the man they all loved, admired, respected and whom they all felt was 'the Greatest Man Alive.' The close bond between the Darley and Sully families is indicated by the fact that Darley's sister married Thomas Sully's son, connecting the Darley/Sully families forever through intermarriage.

But the families had already been united for many decades prior. The Poes, the Darleys and the Sullys were all famed British actors who left England in the 1790s to find success trodding the American boards. Poe's mother and grandmother, Poe's father, Thomas Sully's mother and father, and Felix Darley's parents, John Darley and his wife Eleanora Westray Darley, along with Darley's grandmother ("Mrs. Simpson") and her brilliant daughters, not only worked together on stage, but were very close friends. The glue between these famous acting families became the foundation for the key relationships between their children: Edgar Allan Poe, Thomas Sully and Felix Darley.
Felix Darley and Virginia Poe
were the same age. Both were extremely good looking, sensitive and emotionally vulnerable. With Darley functioning virtually as 'Poe's kid brother,' it is inevitable that Darley came to know the rest of the Poe family very well, especially Muddy and Virginia. That he came to love Virginia dearly and carry her image inside of him for the rest of his life as his image of 'female beauty,' seems unreasonable to question, given the amount of pen and paper he devoted to executing her image.
 
Darley's 'Maria' from Sterne's 'Tristram Shandy.' Is this woebegone young woman Virginia Poe?
Darley's 'Maria' from Sterne's 'Tristram Shandy'
Is this woebegone young woman Virginia Poe?


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