Monday, March 25, 2013


by Arnie Fenner

I was talking about Lord of the Rings art with Tim Kirk and Michael Whelan over dinner one evening during the Spectrum 20 judging. John Howe, Alan Lee, Donato, and many others were enthusiastically discussed, but I kept returning to my belief that Tim's "The Road to Minas Tirith" (which he says was inspired by the classic painting of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow) and Michael's "The Eagles Are Coming" are two classics for our field. Both are incredibly different in technique and approach and yet both are so "right" that I can't imagine either scene being improved upon by other hands in other interpretations. Why do I feel that way? Take a look for yourselves.

Below: I'm not sure which of these inspired Tim's painting (which was originally done as part of his Master's thesis and which subsequently was published in the 1975 J.R.R. Tolkien wall calendar): I'll have to ask. Update: From Tim. "It was, indeed, this [the second] painting—'Napoleon, Campaign of France' by Ernest Meissonier—that inspired my composition for 'The Road to Minas Tirith'...there was just something about the foreground/background relationship that appealed to me."

Below: I believe Michael originally painted this for a calendar, too. 


  1. Is it coincidental that the bottom image is almost identical to the corresponding scene in Peter Jackson's adaptation? If so, I hope that Mr. Whelan got some creative credit or something. Both of these are absolute genius paintings, and represent classic Tolkien interpretations not influenced by the language of games and film that we see so often today. I appreciate the fact that there is a bit of folklore that seems to come out in these paintings.

    And really quickly, Mr. Fenner, if I could possibly ask: Since you did a post on what to do to prepare for exhibiting at a con, I have been wanting to ask you if you could consider doing another post, but this time on how an Illustrator who is not yet established should prepare for a convention.

    This will be my first year to attend SFAL, and I really don't want the time to be wasted. I will enjoy it of course, but I would love to hear some insight from you on what a con-goer should be prepared for to be able to make connections and get the most out of the whole experience.

    Anyway, I hope that's not overwhelming, but I would greatly appreciate it, and I thank you for all you guys do to put these things together!


  2. Tim Kirk is one of my all-time favourite Tolkien artists, from amongst a field of giants. The Last Shore is so simple and yet for me it captures the wistful, melancholic and yet restorative quality of the concept of sailing across the Sundering Sea. Frodo Meditates is another piece that I find very powerful and evocative, with the Shire itself taking the starring role in a very naturalistic way.

    I feel The Road to Minas Tirith is the stunner of that period's work by Kirk. Beautifully detailed and yet not overwrought, to me it perfectly expresses the storybook feel that Tolkien's own paintings possess, but that seems much less common amongst other artists who interpret his work.

    The way that the painting seems to begin with clearly-rendered opulence and then progressively dissolves into dreamlike, impressionistic fields of pure colour... like many of the modern Chinese watercolourists, Kirk draws us in and then leaves us ample space for our own imaginations to run free within the image and beyond it.

    Somehow traditional and quite futuristic at the same time, I consider it a masterpiece. Thanks, Tim!

  3. I agree with Dave re: Tim Kirk being one of my all-time favorite Tolkien artists. I still own that original 1975 calendar of his and those images are much closer in look and feel to how I envisioned the books in my head than any other subsequent artist I've seen.

    Thanks so much Tim for visually articulating Tolkien so well for me!


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