British book illustrator Arthur Rackham, who was active from the late 1800′s to the 1930′s, was one of the all time great illustrators and one of my favorites. He was particularly noted for his illustrations of children’s books. Whatever he tackled, Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, Rip van Winkle, The Wind in the Willows, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens…, Rackham would own it. His unique vision and amazingly strong images became an integral part of the experience of reading the story.
Of the many artists who have tried to illustrate Alice in Wonderland in the footsteps of the amazing Sir John Tenniel, Rackham is the only artist I can think who doesn’t disappear into Tenniel’s shadow like a Cheshire Cat fading into the gloom.
Rackham’s fairy tale worlds are sometimes steeped in gloom and mystery. His misty forests are inhabited by elves and goblins peering about twisted roots, massive gnarled trees, mushrooms, ferns and sinuous, tangled undergrowth. I think his fairy tale illustrations were one of the main starting points for modern fantasy illustration, influencing artists like Frank Frazetta and Roy Krenkel and the generations of fantasy artists behind them.
Rackham was a deft pen and ink artist and most of his paintings started as pen and ink drawings into which he worked layer after layer of transparent watercolor glaze, a painstaking method associated more with classical painting than modern illustration.
There is a nice selection of images from J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens here.
There are complete facsimiles of his illustrated versions of Aesop’s Fables and English Fairy Tales available online as part of Project Gutenberg. (For the quickest view of the material, go to the “Format” section, choose “HTML”, Compression: “None” and look to the index of illustrations.)
The link I’m suggesting below is to a nice broad cross-section of Rackham’s work on the Art Passions site.