The Art of JRR Tolkien

This week’s Tolkien artist insight is about the illustrative artwork of none other than JRR Tolkien himself; I’ve previously looked at the work of other recognised illustrators of Tolkien’s legendarium and whilst debating who to look at this week it occured to me, I haven’t yet delved into the illustrations of the man who created the richest fantasy world in the history of literature.

These art reviews are bi-weekly in alternation with my current art project based on The Lord of the Rings.

I won’t go into the biographical details of Tolkien but clicking his name there will take you to his Wikipedia page if you wanted to know more about him, his life and his work.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at his illustrations and see what we can learn from them.

The Hall at Bag End, Residence of B Baggins Esquire
The Hall at Bag End, Residence of B Baggins Esquire

The first thing that I notice with this drawing, is the proportion, the Hobbit looks to be so much smaller than I’m used to seeing them appear in other artworks and the movies, dwarfed by the absolutely huge hall of Bag End and a front door with a handle that must be unreachable by the Hobbit. In fact, due to the positioning of the Hobbit, he should appear larger and the door smaller, with this in mind he would only be about a quarter of the size of the door when standing in front of it.

Bag end itself, is very well drawn though, beautifully curved and it shows the viewer a sketchy view of Hobbiton outside the front door, adding perspective to the piece.

I also love the doorbell idea, a normal bell attached to the ceiling with a rope or chain that hangs outside the front door, although it looks to high to be reached by another Hobbit, but given Bilbo’s unsociable tendencies in his later life, maybe that’s what he wants.

Rivendell, Looking East
Rivendell, Looking East

Here we’re given a shockingly different impression of Rivendell, what seems to be a tiny settlement sitting amongst patchwork mountains.

There is a quality to Tolkien’s drawings that I can’t quite put my finger on but I enjoy; at the same time, I find that his words painted much richer and finer quality vistas than his artworks. If anything, I find a lot of his sketches and drawings take away from the incredibly detailed and masterful world he created rather than enhancing its value.

The Mountain Path
The Mountain Path

I actually really like this piece, I’m not sure of the medium but if I was to hazard a guess I would say that it’s a linocut, it certainly looks like one. It reminds me in a way of Cyril Power’s work, or the Die Brucke group, all famous linocut artists.

I love the lightning and the sky in this piece, in fact the more I’m looking at it the more I like it.

The use of black ink sets a dark atmosphere for it and the linework really shows the contours of the mountains and the path going through them. I can’t seem to find any information on this other than that it was made as a cover for The Hobbit, so if you’re reading this post and know anything about this piece, I’d be interested to find out; such as whether it was a linocut print and what mountain path it is showing.


This simplistic sketch of the Tower of Orthanc has a nice quality to it, but again as with so many of the sketches, I prefer Nasmith, Lee and Howe’s impressions of Orthanc, they gave it a much more ominous, threatening and oppressive feel, making it more than just a tower, they transformed it into a symbol of power and industrialisation.

However, I do like this sketch and it’s interesting to wonder what Tolkien would have made of the more modern impressions of his descriptive works of literature; I wonder if this is how he truly envisioned Orthanc, I guess in a way that it was considering that’s how he’s drawn it.

I know that there’s a lot of people that will deem me a heretic for saying it, but I can’t help but give the art production team for the Peter Jackson movies so much credit for what they did in turning Middle-earth into a real place visually; I think that Tolkien was much better suited to painting his pictures with words rather than the pencil.

The Doors of Durin
The Doors of Durin

Ok, here’s the opportunity for Tolkien’s draftsmanship to be redeemed and make me eat my words a bit about his ability with a pencil.

This is by far my favourite of any of his drawings and sketches, the symmetry (a word that I personally think should be spelt symmys; but that’s me going off topic) and design of this entrance to Moria is absolutely stunning. Coupled with the Elven writing this door truly is pleasing to the eye, especially when shown in other artworks or the movies all lit up by the moonlight and standing out against the dull rock of the mountainside.

Tolkien Gateway has more information on these doors which you can find by Clicking HereIt’s definitely worth a read and is very informative if you’re interested in learning a bit more of the lore of Middle-earth in relation to this door and design; it explains the symbols as well as the history of the secret door and Khazad-dûm’s inhabitants and builders.

The Forest of Lothlorien in Spring
The Forest of Lothlorien in Spring

Alas, here’s another artwork of Tolkien that I really quite like, the tress are beautifully illustrated and this is a nice picture overall; I still unfortunately have that niggling feeling I so often get though in thinking to myself “but it isn’t Lothlorien, it doesn’t look like it.”

I’m not sure if it’s only me that has been conditioned into seeing these places vividly in my mind as set out either by other artists or by the movies or if this is a common thing for people; again I’d be really keen to find out so if you’re reading this post and getting the same thoughts or feelings, or even if not, let me know in a comment as it would be interesting to hear from either perspective.

This piece is also the nicest coloured work of Tolkien’s that I’ve come across, it doesn’t look like a child has been set loose with a pack of crayons, this piece actually looks like a work of art and an aesthetically pleasing one as well.

Weighing up JRR Tolkien’s artwork and taking what I can from looking at it, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve been spoiled with a multitude of visual depictions of Middle-earth before ever coming to know of the illustrations that Tolkien created himself; other than the Doors of Durin as they appear in the book The Fellowship of the Ring. But regardless of what I think about this artwork, it doesn’t take away from Tolkien’s creativity in any way, he was an extremely skilled and creative genius who changed the world of fiction and shaped the fantasy genre in ways that still effect today’s literature.

Thanks for stopping by and reading this post, I hope you have enjoyed it and please feel free to comment, follow, re-blog and expect another post from me next Wednesday.

Until then, take care!


*Featured Image – The Lonely Mountain by JRR Tolkien for The Hobbit

6 thoughts on “The Art of JRR Tolkien

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