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 William (Will) H. Bradley  (1868 - 1962)

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Lived/Active: Illinois/Massachusetts/New Jersey      Known for: art nouveau posters, painter, prints

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William (Will) H. Bradley
An example of work by William (Will) H. Bradley
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Known as the innovator of the Art Nouveau Movement in America, William Bradley was an illustrator and designer whose work drew on the contrasting influences of William Morris and Aubrey Beardsley.  Bradley had a distinguished career as one of the country's leading typesetters and publication art editors.  From 1894, his commission poster and cover-design work initiated the poster craze in America, and he regarded his commitment to art in posters as assisting business with beautiful presentations.  Multifaceted, Bradley organized his own publishing firm, the Wayside Press; designed type faces, wrote and illustrated stories in his magazine, Bradley, His Book; and served as art director for several magazines.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, he was the son of a cartoonist.  As a child he was fascinated by type, printing and illustration, and when he and his mother moved to Ishpeming, Michigan in 1879 after his father's death, he took his first job, at age eleven, as a printer's devil (apprentice) on a local newspaper, which initiated a life-long fascination with type and printing.  He later became foreman of that newspaper and also earned money by designing posters.

He moved to Chicago in 1886 to launch his career as an illustrator, working in pen and ink for "The Inland Printer" and Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper.  During these early years in Chicago, Bradley could not afford formal art education so he learned from books.  A major inspiration was Englishman William Morris, who popularized the Arts and Crafts Movement with the underlying concept that the act of creating should bring joy to the artist.  Bradley was also inspired by the writings of Oscar Wilde, who taught that art was for 'arts sake'.

Trained as a wood engraver in the mid -1880s, Bradley turned to line engraving when his first techniqu became obsolete.  His engraved covers for the Chicago Journal Inland Printer" in 1894 established him as an innovative illustrator and engraver.  He went on to gain widespread acclaim for his posters for another Chicago publication, The Chap Book, a literary journal that was published between 1894 and 1898.  It was planned primarily as a way to promote a small publishing house, but its crisp modern design and lively writing won it a sophisticated audience

The posters Bradley created for The Chap Book were some of the earliest examples of the Art Nouveau style in the United States and were instrumental in popularizing the style.  In that era, eye-catching posters were meant to boost newsstand sales of magazines.  In the late 1800s, magazines were no longer sold primarily through subscriptions, and there was great competition by publishers for readers.  Spurred by the lure of profitable national advertising, some 7,500 periodicals were established in the United States between 1885 and 1905.  Most were short lived, but collecting newsstand posters became something of a popular craze in the 1890s.

In 1895 Bradley returned to his birthplace of Boston, Massachusetts, where he turned to traditional printing methods, the result being his own periodical Bradley: His Book, published between 1896 and 1898, and devoted to art, literature and printing. This publication had many outstanding decorative illustrations with text and advertisements and reported on the arts and crafts activities of his peers.  In 1898, he disbanded the press for this publication because it was taxing his health and sold it to the University Press at Cambridge.  However, he continued to work for it.

He exhibited work in Paris, France at the gallery of Siegfried Bing in 1895, but by 1900 his career was in decline, and thereafter he worked largely in commercial printing and type design.  He did many freelance commissions including for children's books and for magazines including Collier's, which in 1907 he served as Art Editor.  During this period, his style evolved from the rhythmical Art Nouveau to more static compositions with ornamental forward-facing figures.  In 1915, William Bradley worked for William Randolph Hearst as art supervisor for Hearst's International and other Hearst magazines, and also for several Hearst-produced motion pictures. 

In 1928 he retired to Pasadena, California.  He was the author-illustrator of Toymaker to the King and Wonder Box, and he wrote and directed his own film, Mangold.  He died in La Mesa, CA on Jan. 25, 1962.

By the time of his death, William Bradley had had such a long distinguished career in so many areas of art creation that even he had forgotten his role in Art Nouveau.

Walt Reed, The Illustrator in America
website of the Museum of American Illustration;
National Gallery of Art;
Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

William Bradley is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Art Nouveau

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