Bruce Bairnsfather was as diverse with his artistic styles as he was varied in his artistic content. His work has never been far from the art critics, with a few even questioning the artistic value of his work. As with any art criticism it is in the eye of the beholder what is one manís art and another manís rubbish. Some of the artistís weaknesses add up to an individual style, some have criticised his ability to draw feet and hands, but this lends well to his cartoonist theme. Bairnsfather could create very simple lightning fast sketches for his chalk and talk tours, or exquisitely detailed monochrome pen and ink drawings. I donít think Bairnsfather was ever truly allowed to meet his artistic potential. He loved painting landscapes but was always drawn back to the mainstay of his work, cartoons. Most of his work was of the cartoon variety but also occasionally rare examples of serious drawings have been unearthed. As with all Bairnsfather originals they are very scarce on the ground. A lot of his work has been destroyed, mainly by himself in moments of self-doubt regarding his own artistic value. There are only a handful of pre-World War I pieces known to exist. World War I Fragments from France drawings are also few and far between with only a couple turning up each year at auction, the exact number of Fragments originals in existence may never be known. During World War II Bairnsfather drew for the United States as their official cartoonist reviving his World War I role as official cartoonist for the British Army. World War II drawings are even rarer than those from World War I and are keenly sought after by collectors.
From May 1929 to March 1932 he drew for the Judge publication and during WW2 as well as drawing for the US Army, he produced home defence illustrations for John Bull and Bystander.
The two Wars provided Bairnsfather with most of his subject matter, subsequently after the end of World War II, the appeal of his work waned. His most commonly found works of art are sketches of Old Bill in charcoal, pencil and pen and ink drawings, mostly provided to his legion of fans.
Early 1905 example signed CBB
WWI Fragments drawing signed Bruce Bairnsfather
Large sketch drawn for St Dunstans with extrovert signature
Oil painting of a country scene by a viaduct in Shropshire that was turned down by the Royal Academy much to Bairnsfathers disappointment in 1945
Northchapel working mans club drawing of civilian Old Bill
Watercolour and pen and ink rare WW2 drawing
Serious WWI content
Chelveston Officers Club Mural
How to identify a Bairnsfather original? As with any artwork, provenance is very important as this takes away doubt as to the authenticity of the piece. He signed his work in a number of ways, from CBB (Charles Bruce Bairnsfather) on the pre-World War I drawings, moving on to BB around the start of World War I, then on to Bruce Bairnsfather, just Bairnsfather or Bruce B. As with all of his signatures, a free flowing signature being his trade mark, and with some of the sketches being drawn quite fast the signature can be quite extrovert with flourishing Bís and looping above the surname and the dot for the i often being above the letters rn which frequently look like a letter m.
Regarding his drawing style, the sketches are fluid and have obviously been drawn quickly, so sketches where the lines appear crisp and studied should raise a shadow of doubt in the mind of the viewer and second and even third options should be sought. World War I, especially Fragments and any other published drawings can be cross referenced against the published version to make sure the two match and a sight glass is essential to get a really close up look to avoid prints which appear as a regular pattern of dots as opposed to solid lines, colour washes and the fibrous nature of the paper. Most of his work was underscored with light pencil marks which adds to the authenticity of the piece, and of course the web site host Joe.firstname.lastname@example.org will be more than happy to take a look at any pieces you may have doubts about.