Schoolboy doodles by the Victorian artist John Leech, who first illustrated Charles Dickens’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ in 1843 have been discovered by researchers at the University of Leicester.
The unseen sketches, along with other works by Leech are now on display at the university’s David Wilson Library until 31 July 2017.
Known for his contributions to Punch and classic Dickens novels, the collection sheds light on the artists early life and work, as well as images from his later career.
Margaret Maclean, from the University’s special collections department, who made the discovery of the sketches, said: “I was looking at books for another exhibition and found this one full of drawings and doodles. It was obvious these were way beyond the normal schoolboy standard, so we looked into who might have made them.
“You can clearly see they are by the same hand – the style, the subject and feeling behind them is so similar.”
Leech was born in 1817 in London, the son of the assistant proprietor of the London Coffee House.
He was sent to Charterhouse School in Surrey from the age of seven, initially as a day pupil and then as a boarder. After his father’s business collapsed he was compelled to turn to art, a hobby in which he had always shown outstanding talent, to make his living and to support his family.
Among the work on display is a copy of the chief Latin and Greek textbook used at the school, which was written by the Charterhouse schoolmaster John Russell.
The copy is inscribed with ‘Berney’ on the cover and likely belonged to George Berney, who was a fellow boarder in Churtons with Leech. Its blank pages are filled with ‘doodles’, notable for their vitality and humour.
Dr Simon Dixon from the University of Leicester Special Collections said: “The discovery of these previously unknown sketches by John Leech is down to some superb detective work by Margaret Maclean from the University Library’s Archives and Special Collections team. The drawings add to our knowledge of Leech’s early years and they are great fun to see.”