Two twin boys were born in 1883 to Edward Detmold and his wife, Mary Agnes Luck. Their introduction to the world was considerably lacking in luck, since the boys were orphaned into the care of their mother’s brother, the possibility being that Mary died in childbirth. Nevertheless, the uncle, Dr E. B Shuldham clearly showed an interest in the twins, influencing them with his knowledge of natural history and encouraging their natural talent . From being small boys of 5 they had spent considerable time drawing animals in the zoological gardens and in the British Museum. Their work also demonstrates how their curiosity had been provoked by their uncles collection of Japanese prints, and their later printmaking refers back to the works of Japanese masters, notably Hiroshige and Hokusai. They had no formal art training except for their 6 months drawing at the Hampstead Conservatoire when they were still small boys, but were clearly showing artistic talent as they exhibited at the Royal Academy when they were only 13.
The twins must have enjoyed an amazingly close relationship, choosing to work together on single plate etchings, and limiting their output at this time to a fairly small number. This suggests that they wanted to concentrate on producing work of their best quality, honing their craft, and experimenting with etching, and printmaking techniques.
” ‘They seemed as one soul divided between two bodies, inspired by the same ideal, using the same means of expression, possessing the same quickness of eye and deftness of hand’ (Dodgson, ‘Maurice and Edward Detmold’, 373).
By the early 1900’s they had had success with a number of projects, all mainly using their prodigious talent at illustrating the animal world, ‘Pictures from Birdland’ was published in 1899 and together they illustrated Kipling’s Jungle Book in 1903. They were building success on success, and it is so deeply sad that Charles became so overwhelmed by the world that in 1908, at aged 24 he chose to take his own life with chloroform. There has never been a detailed explanation as to what made him do so, but it must have left his twin devastated, leaving him alone with the talent they had so successfully shared.
There was a resurgence of interest in Edwards work after the British publication of Campbell Dodgson’s article on the early works of the Detmold twins in Print Collector’s Quarterly (Dec. 1922, p.373) and Edward continued to produce prints and watercolours with success as a notable British printmaker. He also had a deep interest in philosophy, reading Schopenhauer and being influenced by the Buddhist philosophy of the Upanishadr and the Bhagavad-Gita. He produced at this time an unillustrated work containing his view to living, appropriately titled ‘Life’. When his brother committed suicide in 1908, Charles had had the view that his life was not over,
‘This is not the end of a life. I have expressed through my physical means all that they are capable of expressing, and I am about to lay them aside’ (Art Journal).
Edward in his turn was experiencing difficulties living in the world, having seen the atrocities of the Great War, and referring to ‘this blood-drenched civilisation’. He stopped producing prints and retired into obscurity, His work ‘Life’ explained how he had taken a meaningful choice to stop producing more work in order to reach ‘attainment’ and he describes how that state can be acheived by two paths,
`The direct positive way – through progressive liberation – passing from the lesser realisation of the body, to the greater realisation of the mind, and therefrom to the realisation of the infinite through the soul; and the direct negative way -through disillusionment – which comes of infatuation with things in themselves, and the inevitable passing thereof.’
He lived his final years in Montgomery, Wales and died in 1957. I have read various accounts which suggest that he too committed suicide by shooting himself, and this record is as related by Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, though other accounts claim no official record exists. The story of the twin brothers is one of triumph and disaster, an orphaned beginning with a fortuitous fostered childhood, happy and fulfilled, an early success as young men working together, producing worthwhile illustration, and the disaster as living in the world proves too great a challenge for Charles, and eventually Edward. They lived during a challenging, deeply disturbed time, a context of looming war, the war itself and the attempts to rebuild Europe afterward. I celebrate their early lives and feel desperately sad that they were separated from firstly their mother , and then from one another. Who knows the depths of a man’s mind when it has suffered trauma on that scale? They left a body of work that reflects a deep understanding and love of nature. Who knows whether Charles was right or not, in believing he was shrugging off the earthly life, but that ‘this was not the end of a life’? Their drawing of animals is exemplary, and was compared to Durer, what more needs to be said? But hey clearly wanted to express in their illustration a fantasy world of the imagination as well, as can be seen in the gorgeous illustrations of Aesop, and in Sinbad, but also in the decorative prints of the tiger and the botanical illustrations. A world within a world.
National Portrait Gallery
Victoria and Albert Museum