Heraldic Artists

Dan de Lion (Dan Escott) by Andrew Stewart Jamieson

In the late 1970’s Anthony Wood principle lecturer of the Calligraphy, Heraldry and Illumination course at Reigate School of Art engaged a new lecturer on the course.  His name was Dan Escott.  Dan was an illustrator by profession and anyone who ever read ‘Look and Learn Magazine’ will be familiar with his work if not his name.  Dan was born in Surrey, England in 1928 and he attended Croyden College of Art during which time he developed an interest in heraldry.  After leaving college he went on to train at the College of Arms as a herald painter and this training later helped with the historical and heraldic illustrations he produced for ‘Look and Learn’. He was also a re enactor with the Sealed Knot Society in England and played the part of an Officer of Arms at the court of King Charles.  Dan’s work and particularly his lions are instantly recognisable.  He like so many of the best heraldic artists had that knack of capturing the essence and spirit of a lion even though heraldic lions are incredibly stylised and bear little resemblance to the real thing.  Funnily enough, the original cartoonists at Walt Disney had a lot in common with heraldic artists in that they too capture that same spirit of the animal.  When we look at an Escott lion we see a beautifully proportioned beast that fills a space perfectly.  Good heraldic art is all about proportion and filling spaces.  Dan also enhanced the features of his lions — they are skinny, hungry and have quite large paws and although they look medieval to the trained eye they are also incredibly contemporary.  This was Dan’s genius.  His work was saturated in the aura of the medieval, his distorted perspective on some of his work adds to this sense and yet the paintings are executed with a sharpness, clarity and skill that is beyond any medieval rendition and which of course only a trained professional can achieve.  Unfortunately, that essential quality in Dan’s work has also led to it being stolen, cropped, pasted and assembled by unscrupulous so called ‘digital artists’ with little or no talent beyond using a mouse and keypad.  He produced wonderful renditions of medieval ships with heraldic sails, knights with exaggerated limbs on exaggerated horses, he painted Kings and Dukes from the pages of history and his heraldic beasts and coats of arms enabled the medieval world and beyond to come alive.  I always get a thrill when I see his work and the reproductions that exist do the originals no justice.  They are meticulous and show the close scrutiny of a man with incredible observation and attention to detail.  Everyone who studied under him at Reigate somehow took some of that essential Escott and applied it to their own work and his influence can perfectly be seen in the heraldic work of Canadian artist, Karen Bailey.  By the time I arrived at Reigate in 1980 he had ceased to teach but he did however continue to train some of the third year students privately in the evening at the Meadvale student hostel and so I was fortunate to be invited to those sessions.  My first recollection of him was a tall thin man with glasses who had the scrutiny of a bird of prey.  He shook my hand and said, ‘I have been hearing good things about your work’.  I attended these classes with him and it was wonderful to see how he worked, applied his techniques and approached his heraldic painting.  It made for an interesting contrast to the medieval illuminating style taught at Reigate.  Dan’s influence can be seen in some of my own works such as the King Richard III and Duke of Burgundy and I am incredibly grateful to have had the privilege of learning a few ‘tricks of the trade’ from him.  Dan emigrated to Australia where he worked for Australian Geographic and cleverly named his new business, ‘Dan de Lion’.  Sadly, he died in 1987 in Sydney aged 58.  He left behind a body of work that is testament to his skill and passion and which thankfully has inspired many true heraldic artists and illustrators.  – Andrew Stewart Jamieson

Categories: Heraldic Artists

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