The 1880s was a time of change: new developments in printing and the growing interest in photographs both affected magazine art. Though the faithful attention to detail so evident in the 70s was still present in the early 80s, illustrations are much lighter and brighter in subject and in line -- and much more cheerful, as a result. Colour also made its first appearance in the frontispiece for the year.
“Summer Must Go”, the frontispiece for October 1883 (artist not named), is unusual for the era: it’s also the first illustration to look like the painting it is, although the engraving lines are still to be seen. A second distinctive development in this decade is the decided switch to cheerful, light and bright depictions of children -- much less detail, much more decorative -- compare C. F. Siedl's “In Blackberry Season” (1887) with Howard Pyle’s earlier work, “Kitty and the Turkish Merchant.”
E. W. Kemble was another illustrator to appear with increasing frequency, making a first appearance in the 1880s and continuing for another two decades. Palmer Cox’s ever-popular “Brownie” poems also continued (all right, so they DON’t depict children, strictly speaking, but they’re funny), as they would into the new century.
Reginald Birch’s distinctive drawings first appeared in St. Nicholas during the 80s, and he was one of their most prolific artists throughout this decade and the one that followed. Birch, by the way, influenced more than art: his illustrations for Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Little Lord Fauntleroy earned him the undying hatred of several generations of small boys -- their fond mamas, emulating Birch’s depiction of the “manly” young hero of the story, dressed their sons in velvet suits with large lace collars, and coaxed their hair into lovely long ringlets.
As the 1880s ended, the camera encroached on St. Nicholas for the first time, and innovations in art -- perhaps to meet the challenge -- proliferated.