This handsome volume was presented to George Theaker, second-time winner of a National Art competition for the Queen's Prize, in 1860. Its immaculate internal condition implies that it was not often consulted! It is, nonetheless, fascinating in that it provides a clear illustration (no pun intended) of the interest and seriousness of the Victorian approach to art. The text is convoluted in style, and very dense, and the illustrations merely offer the slightest assistance in its interpretation. Mr Theaker was no doubt pleased to receive his prize, but not, perhaps enamoured of it.
The author, C R Leslie, RA (1794-1859) was an English genre painter, born in London, raised in America from the age of 5, but returning to study at the Royal Academy in 1811, where he won two awards. At first he essayed high art, his earliest important subject depicting Saul and the Witch of Endor; but he soon discovered his true aptitude and became a painter of cabinet-pictures, dealing, not with the contemporary life that surrounded him, but with scenes from the great masters of fiction, (Shakespeare, Cervantes, Addison, Molière, Swift, Sterne, Fielding and Smollett. He was elected ARA in 1821, and full Academician in 1826. He returned briefly to the States in 1833, but was home in London in 6 months, where he remained until his death in 1859. He is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.
The book is in very good condition for its age, though showing fairly serious signs of wear to the cover edges and the spine, where the leather binding has been badly rubbed and, in places, frankly damaged. It is a handsome volume, however, with dark red covers bearing an ornate gilded design with borders to the front, repeated in blind on the back, and a central medallion proclaiming it the Queens Prize for Art (also repeated on the back). The spine has 6 panels, 2 with very faded gilt titles, and a gilt design in the remaining 4. All page edges gilt. Within, the binding is generally tight (slight weakness at pp. 92/3, there is a little foxing on the first and last few pages, and the text is clean and bright. A ?water stain is on the frontispiece, not affecting the actual picture. The marbled endpapers are undamaged, and inside the front cover a paste-down gives the details of the prize. A pencilled signature is most likely that of his son, Harry George Theaker, who evidently inherited his father's artistic talent, becoming a successful children's book illustrator. An interesting book for the art historian, perhaps.