The drawings on display take a satirical swipe at the pompous or the pretentious by exaggerating their folly to the point of absurdity. Straight faced individuals undertaking seriously silly endeavours are the butt of his humour, as well as organisations and institutions, the laws of physics and the workings of fate.
During two World Wars he used gentle irony and irrationality to counter enemy propaganda and to relieve the fear and depression both at home and abroad engendered by the horrors of war.
A contemporary review praised the unexpected, “fineness of Heath Robinson’s craftsmanship – the clean and firm fluency of his pen line, the quality of his water-colour washes. Those who have known his work only in reproduction will be surprised at its technical excellence.”
Geoffrey Beare, curator of the exhibition, affirms, “While he was renowned as a fine illustrator and painter, it was his humorous work that provided the larger part of his income over many years and for which most people these days remember him.
“We hope this exhibition will be a fitting tribute to this unique illustrator 150 years after his birth and that visitors will not only enjoy his sense of humour but discover in the exhibition and our permanent galleries the surprising breadth and exquisitely detailed work of a fine artist”.
The exhibition builds on a programme of work supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund and National Heritage Memorial Fund. Made possible by National Lottery players, £1.1m from the Heritage Fund enabled the museum to be built in 2016 and for an extensive part of the Heath Robinson collection to be conserved and displayed.
The museum also received £250,000 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund to acquire the Heneage Collection of Heath Robinson material, which forms a key part of the collection.