J. Allen St. John - signature St. John art in # 4 of
B&W ImageS

J. Allen St. John began his artistic career in 1898. He was born in 1875 (around the time of Franklin Booth, Ivan Bilibin, J.C. Leyendecker and Gordon Grant). When he was eight years old, he went with his mother to spend several years in Paris where she studied art. His early years are rather vague, but Darrell C. Richardson, in his indispensable J. Allen St. John: An Illustrated Bibliography, reprints this data from a catalog of The American Academy of Art:

J. Allen St. John
Life Drawing and Illustration

"Studied at Art Students League of New York under William M. Chase, F.V. Du Mond, George de Forest Brush, H. Siddons Mowbray, Carrol Beckwith, and Kenyon Cox; in Paris with Jean Paul Laurens; in Belgium and Holland with Henri Vierin."

  J. Allen St. John - Harpers 1898
early St. John art from March 1898 issue of Harpers Monthly

J. Allen St. John - Woman's World 1912J. Allen St. John - The Face in the PoolThe matriculation at Art Students League seems to have occured from 1897 to 1900. From 1901 to 1903 he was an instructor at the Chase School of Art. By 1898 St. John was working commercially in New York for the New York Herald to possibly as late as 1918. From 1906 to 1908 he returned to France, studying at the Academy Julian with Laurens. He moved to Chicago circa 1912 where he immediately got work doing magazine covers (see left) and began a long relationship with the publisher A.C. McClurg & Co. The actual relationship started in 1905 with the publication of The Face in the Pool. This book, written and illustrated by St. John, was a "Faerie Tale" that really didn't work. It had b&w illustrations very obviously influenced by Howard Pyle (reproduced in full in ImageS B&W #4) and four color plates that wandered all over the stylistic map (see image at right). Whatever its merits as a book, it marks the first collaboration of St. John and McClurg. It just might be that because the company was willing to publish the first book of a young, untested artist that St. John was willing to move to Chicago and devote so much of his efforts to them.

J. Allen St. John - Tarzan the UntamedJ. Allen St. John - pen & inkIn 1915, McClurg hired him to provide small b&w chapter headings for the second novel in a new series by a little-known author named Edgar Rice Burroughs. It was The Return of Tarzan and had originally been serialized in seven issues of New Story magazine in late 1913, two with cover illustrations by N.C. Wyeth - one of which was used on the dj of the McClurg edition. The next novel in the series, The Beasts of Tarzan, was a St. John extravaganza. He painted the color wrap-around dust jacket, and provided a b&w frontispiece and title page illustrations plus 38 pen & ink drawings in text. A new novel appeared every year for two decades and every one featured St. John art: St. John dust jackets and St. John b&w interior illustrations. Some were pen & ink, others, like the one at left from the 1920 Tarzan the Untamed, were b&w reproductions of paintings. Early on he illustrated other books like King Arthur and His Knights (1916) for Rand McNally, another Chicago firm, but McClurg books and teaching at the Chicago Art Institute and later the American Academy of Art seemed to occupy the majority of his time.

So many of the pen & ink drawings were reproduced within the text, on the same barely-adequate paper. When Russ Cochran published the 1976 first volume of the Library of Illustration, I can't convey how grateful I was to see these illustrations reproduced on coated paper, from the originals! The sample above right is taken from that volume. It's impossible to overstate the impact these illustrations had on a generation of artists. Frazetta, Krenkel, Williamson, Crandall, and others all felt the aptness of the style to the adventure image.

J. Allen St. John - Mystic cover 1953When the flow of Tarzan and Pellucidar and Mars and Venus stories ceased in 1936, and the demand for book illustrations faded, he had already found another outlet for his prolific paint brush: the Pulps! During the late teens and '20s, he'd provided some covers for Blue Book and art for The Green Book and The Red Book Magazine, all from Chicago's Story-Press Corp. The late 30s found his work in The Boy's World and the '40s were spent primarily on or in various and sundry pulps from Chicago-based Ziff-Davis, like Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures. When the pulps faded out around 1950, he dabbled in covers for some of the digests, like Mystic (11/53) at left.

In 1916, The Beasts of Tarzan was just one of a half-dozen books that St. John was called upon to illustrate. There was no reason to believe that it would be any different than The Boss of the Lazy Y or The Corner Stone or Alice in Wonderland (I've never seen a copy, but I'll bet it's marvelous), also from that year. He was still very vigorously pursuing book illustrations throughout the teens and early 20s according to the entries in Richardson's Bibliography. Something about the Burroughs subject matter resonated with St. John, but there were many other authors who had multiple books with his dust jackets and/or art: Robert Ames Bennet (6), Ray Cummings (2), Marvin Dana (2), Byron Dunn (3), Oscar J. Friend (4), Edgar A. Guest (10), W.D. Hoffman (8), Margaret Hill McCarter (3), L. Curry Morton (4), George W. Ogden (5), Randall Parrish (2), Robert E. Pinkerton (2), Charles Alden Selzer (2), Edith Van Dine [L. Frank Baum] (2), and Dillon Wallace (3). Many of these were Westerns. So it's a mistake to view him as simply "the Burroughs artist." In fact, Cochran speculates, and I concur, that had he not been so closely associated with ERB, western fiction and the "outside of New York" McClurg, he could easily have developed a classical reputation as one of the period's great illustrators. He's conspicuously absent from the great books on American illustration by the Reeds and Pitz.

He was a teacher at the Chicago Art Institute from 1917-1935 and with the American Academy of Art from 1935 until his death in 1957.


Learn more about J. Allen St. John in the following books:

J. Allen St. John Stan Vinson in The World of Comic Art V1:2, 1966
The Edgar Rice Burroughs Library of Illustration - Volume 1 Russ Cochran, 1976 Russ Cochran
J. Allen St. John: An Illustrated Bibliography Darrell C. Richardson, 1991 Mid-America
The Vadeboncoeur Collection of Knowledge Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. 1998
The Vadeboncoeur Collection of ImageS B&W 4 Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. 2008 JVJ Publishing

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This page written, designed & © 1998 by Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. Updated 2011.

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