Launched in 1893 as a sister paper to The Illustrated London News, The Sketch billed itself as a “A Journal of Art and Actuality” with a light-hearted mix of theatre, celebrity and gossip that was designed to counterbalance the more heavyweight, news-focused content of the ILN.
The brainchild of journalist Clement Shorter and William Ingram (son of the ILN’s founder, Hebert Ingram), Shorter would edit the magazine until 1900. He was succeeded by John Latey from 1900-1902 and Keble Howard (1902-1905). Bruce Ingram, also editor of The Illustrated London News, took on the role from 1905-1946. Even though he was absent for much of Great War while serving in the Army, he was able to maintain reasonable contact with the office and the magazine continued to flourish.
The Sketch was the mother of a group of magazines known as the “mid-weeklies” (due to their publication each Wednesday) and was the first of its kind to cover “society” news. Its aim, according to a description in the ILN in 1928, was to appeal “to the cultivated people who in their leisure moments look for light reading and amusing pictures, imbued with a high artistic value”.
This artistic value was well represented during the First World War. The Sketch’s weekly gossip column, “Letters of Phrynette”, was illustrated in a Beardsley style by Gladys Peto. A series of cartoons by William Heath Robinson portrayed hapless Tommies and the perfidious Hun using increasingly outlandish ways to outwit each other.
Other regular artistic contributors included George Studdy, Frank Reynolds, Will Owen and Raphael Kirchner. His sensual “Kirchner Girls”, published exclusively in 1915, were hugely popular with troops at the Front and could claim to be the world’s first illustrated “pin-ups”.