Hannah Frank: From Ideas to Illustrations

A collection of papers relating to Hannah Frank, the Glasgow-born Artist, Sculptor and Arts graduate of the University of Glasgow is held by the University’s Archives and Special Collections. Recently, I had the opportunity to examine the papers which relate to Frank’s time as a student, which includes some of her university lecture notes (DC 51/1-12), course work (DC 51/13-17) and letters from Gilbert Highet (DC 51/18), editor of the University’s Magazine from 1929-1930 (when many of her illustrations were published).


Photograph of Hannah Frank’s graduation from the University of Glasgow

Hannah Frank had several poems and drawings published in the Glasgow University Magazine (GUM), all of which appeared under her pseudonym Al Aaraaf, after the Edgar Allen Poe poem of the same name. It is these distinctive black and white illustrations, which have been likened to the work of the Mackintosh sisters, Jessie M. King, Aubrey Beardsley and the Art Nouveau movement, for which she is perhaps best known.

DC198_1_36(3) Vol. 40 No.4

Poem and illustration by Hannah Frank (Al Aaraaf) in the GUM 1928 (Vol. 40 No. 4)

The items in the collection I was particularly taken with were the series of Frank’s lecture notes, contained within 12 separate notebooks (DC 51/1-12), from her classes in French, English, Latin, Moral Philosophy and Botany. Whilst looking through her notes I found that not only were they filled with her notes taken during lectures, as we might expect, but also with an abundance of her sketches and illustrations made during her classes here.


The illustrations in her student notebooks (DC 51/1-12) range from tiny doodles of faces and figures, dotted throughout, to sketches encompassing entire pages. On closer inspection I was excited to find that some of the sketches could offer an insight into the conception of some of her published works.


Compositional Sketches


Sketch contained within Frank’s Botany lecture notes 1929-1930 (DC 51/12)

Frank’s two Botany notebooks in the collection contain many detailed and colourful botanical illustrations, in line with the class teachings. However, amongst the botanical drawings we find several examples of compositional-type sketches. For example, the curved figures in one of her illustrations seems to mimic the curved petals of the botanical drawing on the opposing page – coincidence, perhaps, but it could also be indicative of her source of inspiration. Could this be evidence that Frank was taking her studies in botany and applying it to her artwork?


Sketch found in Frank’s English lecture notes of 1926-1927 (DC 51/5) & ‘Red Flowers’ published in the GUM in 1929 (Vol. 41 No. 1)

In Hannah’s 1926-1927 English lecture notes we find what looks like another compositional sketch, the beginning of what was to become her final illustration ‘Red Flowers’, published in the GUM just a few years later. The sketch is not as refined as the finished illustration, the rough style indicates quick work, although it’s clear that even at this stage the form of the final illustration is taking shape, even down to the robes of the figures.

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DC 51/5 and 1929 GUM (Vol. 41 No. 9)

A similar example of this can be seen in another sketch from the same notebook, which seems to relate to a figure contained within her final illustration ‘Night’, published in the University Magazine in 1930.  The woman at the window and the woman sketched in her class notebook both exhibit a similar neckline, position and features.

Words and Works

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‘O Night’ (DC 198 Vol. 40, No.2)

Frank was often inspired by literature and poetry, as her pseudonym suggests, and wrote many poems to accompany her artworks. The importance of text in her work may also have been stimulated by her studies.  It is her English notebooks that contain the most drawings – perhaps an indication that it was during these classes she felt most inspired!

In another notebook we find the carefully written words ‘ALL IS NOT VANITY’ which stands out, alone on the bottom left of a page. Could this relate to her illustration ‘Vanity’ published in the GUM in the same year?

And finally, there is the example of ‘Hopeless Love’ – a pen and ink drawing she made in 1929 – which depicts a woman facing the viewer – with the words “a lady murmuring low words of hopeless love”. The origin of these words was previously unknown. However, it seems that her class lecture notes may have finally unlocked this mystery.

Opposite a sketch which appears quite clearly to relate to the finished work there is a draft of a poem. The lines exhibit lots of changes but if you look closely you can see the words ‘a lady murmuring low words or/ syllables of hopeless love’. The amendments made to the verse suggest that this is in fact a previously unknown and original poem by Hannah Frank, written to accompany this artwork.

In conclusion, I believe that these sketches can offer us an important insight into Frank’s artistic process and provide evidence of the conception of some of her published works. The collection also evidences that it was during her time at the University that Frank  began to develop her distinctive and unique style.

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‘Hopeless Love’ (image reproduced with the permission of the Estate of Hannah Frank) & sketch relating to the work, with accompanying poem (DC 51/5)

Whilst at the University she also attended evening classes at the GSA (from the late 1920s – to the 1950s) and in 1952 she turned to sculpture, studying at the GSA under Benno Schotz. Her sculpture has been exhibited through the Royal Academy and the Royal Sottish Academy, amongst others.

In 2009 Hannah Frank was recognised by the University for her outstanding contribution to Glasgow, the Jewish Community, and the arts, becoming the first person to be awarded a posthumous honorary degree from the University of Glasgow.

For more information on Hannah Frank’s time at the University please visit the University Story website where you can view a short biography.

Further images of Frank’s work for the GUM are available to view in our online exhibition.

Further information about Hannah Frank and her work can be found here.


Categories: Archives and Special Collections, Library

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