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.
The Arthur Rackham Society site has a good selection of links to Rackham’s illustrations online (pop-up warning: Angelfire hosted site).
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.)
Here is a beautiful set of Rackham’s Alice in Wonderland illustrations courtesy of good ol’ Doc Ozone.
The link I’m suggesting below is to a nice broad cross-section of Rackham’s work on the Art Passions site.
12 Replies to “Arthur Rackham”
I am a huge fan of Rackham too! Are familiar with the work of Lisbeth Zwerger? She has done some beautifully original children’s books – among my favorite are The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. Rackham was an inspiration to Zwerger and you can certainly see his influence on her earlier work.
Check her out – I would love to hear what you think.
Thanks. I wasn’t familiar with her work. I’ve found some small reproductions (mostly book covers on bookstore sites) and her watercolors look enticing, particularly the illustrations for The Wizard of Oz. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a web site with images large enough to really get a good look her paintings. I’ll keep looking around, but If you come across a site with large reproductions of her work, please let me know.
There are some other beautifully done illustrations of Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass, by Mervyn Peake, who also wrote the extraordinary Gormenghast Trilogy. His Alice drawings are odd and whimsical, with a not quite purely innocent Alice, unlike any others, and some unusual vaguely Seuss-like creatures, . I’d highly recommend you have a look. And also read the Gormenghast stories, which he both wrote and illustrated, long, complex and beautiful.
Thanks, Joel. While I had seen one or two of Peake’s illustrations in isolation (history of illustration type books), I wasn’t really familiar with much of his work or the Gormenghast books. I found his official web site. (If you know of other good online galleries of his work, please let me know.) His illustrations for Alice certainly have their own strong identity, but what really knocked me out were his illos for The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. Wow. He’ll probably be the topic of a future post. Thanks!
Arthur Rackham’s Fairy Tale Art is now available as playing cards:
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