The witty children’s Illustrator Fritz Wegner who upset Nazis in Vienna with Hitler cartoon as a schoolboy
PUBLISHED: 11:00 04 April 2015
Friends, family and fellow artists gathered at the funeral on Tuesday of the Highgate illustrator of children’s books, Fritz Wegner, who has died aged 90.
Hailed by his contemporaries for his “fluid draughtsmanship”, Fritz, who lived in Swains Lane, was renowned for his humorous and detailed drawings.
He was a popular and much-loved teacher at St Martin’s School of Art, now Central Saint Martins, for 25 years from 1969.
Born in Vienna to secular Jewish parents Michael and Eti, his secure childhood was abruptly ended by the Anschluss of 1938.
After drawing a cartoon of Hitler and enraging his pro-Nazi teacher, he understood the danger he was in and his parents organised his departure, alone, by train to London.
His parents and sister joined him later, but initially he was taken in by George Mansell, one of his teachers at St Martin’s School of Art.
As Mr Wegner said in an interview: “It was an extremely generous thing to do and indeed I lived with them for several years, learning everything I later knew about lettering, penmanship, gilding and the Roman alphabet. That was the start of an early passion, after which I moved on to doing illustrations.”
At the outbreak of war, he worked as a labourer on land in Buckinghamshire and it was here that he met his wife, the journalist Janet Barber, who was living in a nearby village. They were married two years later and moved to Hampstead Heath.
Fritz began his long career as a freelance illustrator by drawing book jackets for a range of publishers.
His well-known works included the English edition of The Catcher in the Rye (1951), and religious works by Dorothy L Sayers such as The Story of Noah’s Ark (1956) and The Days of Christ’s Coming, (1960), in a slightly medieval style.
He also undertook a range of illustration work, including stamps for Christmas.
But his forte was children’s books, including the 1968 edition of André Maurois’s Fattypuffs and Thinifers (1968), subsequently reprinted with colour added.
In 1990, he was voted The Illustrator’s Illustrator, and in a recent tribute for Fritz’s 90th birthday, the author and fellow illustrator Ian Beck wrote, “No one to touch him; wit, warmth, and above all such fine and fluid draughtsmanship”,
One of Fritz’s most ambitious projects was Heaven on Earth (1992), an illustrated summary of the collected lore of the zodiac,
In his final years, failing eyesight and health confined Wegner to his Highgate home.
He is survived by Janet and their children, Nicholas, Charles and Elizabeth, and nine grandchildren.
Following his funeral at St Marylebone Crematorium, a reception was held at the Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution, in South Grove.
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