Friday 2 July 2010

Art on Friday - Patrick Nicolle

When I visualise the world of Dungeons and Dragons, it's not the High Mediaeval period that I see. Instead, I tend to picture the heroes and warriors as existing in a kind of magical fantasy Dark Ages, complete with Saxons and Vikings, crumbling ruins of Roman magnificence, hauberks and axes. It's a milieu that appeals to me - fallen empires, tough men hacking out new kingdoms with sword and axe, battles and action aplenty.

One artist who supplied my mind with a plethora of images when I was a young grognard was Patrick "Pat" Nicolle (1907-1995). Born in London, he spent most of his youth in the Midlands. He was a founder member of the Arms and Armour Society at the Tower of London. This fed through into his illustrations for comic strips about the Norman invasion and Robin Hood, giving them an authenticity and feel that others struggle to match. One of his earliest jobs was illustrating for the Boys's Own Paper in the 1930s, and he continued with illustrations and comic strips based on tales of High Adventure until, in the late sixties, he was employed by the children's magazine Look and Learn, a staple of my youth, doing the artwork for countless historical articles and series.

His colourful and highly-detailed style of work is all the more impressive when one considers that Look and Learn was a weekly magazine and the turnaround on these pieces must have been tight to say the least. Yet there is no compromise on the workmanship and the attention to detail.

Sadly, like the magazine in which I first encountered his work, he is no longer with us; another link to a bygone age passes. Yet, as with all great artists, he lives on through his work.

I can't find a specific dedicated site for Nicolle's work but here is the link to the Look and Learn site which will take you straight to his pictures.

What I like about this one is the monk on the far left of the picture. While the others are holding up their holy symbols and raising their arms in prayer, he's scarpering.

Vikings! Don't you just love these guys? Always on the move, looking for new lands and new opportunities for plunder. A bit like most adventuring parties I could mention.

A horde of barbarians gatecrash a Roman dinner scene. I love the expression on the face of the lead axeman.

Big battles, axes, swords, warriors - what's not to like?

Macbeth and the Three Witches - this is a picture full of character, and depicts probably most realistically what Macbeth (fl. 1040) might well have looked like. Gotta love those witches!

A minor diversion into the fourteenth century - despite my earlier comments about mediaevality. Nicolle did plenty of this period as well. The guy with the hammer is so evocative - you can almost hear the crunch as the lump hits home.

More Dark Ages in this one, and it's interesting to note that there are also fyrd men and civilians here, as well as some cool scenes of drakkars at full sail and some more combat action.

This is a picture of an episode just after the Battle of Hastings, in which the Saxons turned and cut some pursuing Normans to bits at a place called the Malfoss or Evil Ditch.

About a quarter of a mile to the north-west of the main battle was a deep gully, today known as Oakwood Gill. It was a series of ditches with very steep banks; covered with brambles and undergrowth, it was almost hidden from the fast-moving Normans as the light faded.

Newly arrived Saxons, too late to influence the battle, took up an orderly defensive shieldwall position on the northern bank of the huge ditches and called to any fleeing fyrdsmen to join them.

They lured the Normans, who did not know the lie of the land, towards them and as the invaders charged over the edge, they somersaulted and tumbled headlong into the ditches. More cavalry followed, unable to see much before them, until the ditches were almost full. Anyone who didn't break their back or neck was put to the sword by the Saxons. Unsurprisingly, this particular engagement did not make it onto the Bayeux Tapestry.


  1. Nice art. I'd never heard of Nicolle before.

  2. Period weapons and armor are so much more interesting to me than the oversized, spiky nonsense that shows up in so much art these days. The Look & Learn site is an awesome place to go to be inspired - I'm also a big fan of Angus McBride.

  3. Great stuff! Scarpering Priest is brilliant B-)