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Arthur Rackham (1867-1939)

 

Arthur Rackham was among the leading artists associated with the Golden Age of Fantasy Illustration.

 

Throughout his lengthy career, Rackham was prolific and contributed his talents to illustrating a variety of subjects, including traditional fairy tales, Shakespearean works,

Wagnerian verse, Arthurian legend and tales of Antiquity. His illustrations are characterised by a sinuous pen line softened with muted watercolour - a feature that is typical of

the Art Nouveau aesthete. His forests are looming with frightening grasping roots, his fair maidens are sensuous - yet somehow chaste - and his ogres and trolls ugly enough to

repulse, but with sufficient good nature not to frighten.

 

We have chosen to highlight one of our favourite images from each of the following books illustrated by Rackham: Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens; Alice's Adventures in

Wonderland; A Midsummer-Night's Dream; Undine; The Rhinegold and The Valkyrie; Siegfried and The Twilight of the Gods; The Romance of King Arthur and His Knights

of the Round Table; The Springtide of Life; Irish Fairy Tales; Comus; Hawthorne's Wonder Book; and The Tempest.

 

Should you wish to purchase Fine Art Posters or Greeting Cards showing the artwork of Arthur Rackham, we are aware that these are available through Spirit of the Ages.

 

 

"Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens"

 

Arthur Rackham - 'The fairies have their tiffs with the bird' from ''Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens'' (1906)

The fairies have their tiffs with the birds

 

This illustration, depicting a description in the Chapter, "Peter Pan", was published in the First Edition of

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (1906) illustrated by Arthur Rackham.

 

Published by Hodder & Stoughton (London), Arthur Rackham's illustrated Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens

was a 'tour de force'.

 

For the First Edition, Rackham turned his prodigious skill towards illustrating a portion of Barrie's play, The

Little White Bird. It tells the story of Peter Pan - the eternal child living in Neverland - who often visits London

to listen to bedtime stories told by Mrs Mary Darling to her children (one of whom is Wendy). After Wendy

helps Peter become re-attached to his shadow, he takes her to Neverland to be mother to his gang of Lost Boys

(the children lost in Kensington Gardens).

 

A contemporary review of the 1906 Edition published in The World  provides some insight into the reception

the publication received upon release:

 

"Mr Barrie has done what no one else has done since the release of "Alice", he has invented a

new legend, a modern folk story which comprehends all the innermost secrets of the modern

child, be he four or forty. Mr Rackham, for his part, has been bewitched in his cradle: he does

not dream of fairies or  hobgoblins, he knows them".

 

Arthur Rackham - detail from 'The fairies have their tiffs with the bird' from ''Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens'' (1906)

 

The Fairies

 

 

 

"Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"

 

       
Arthur Rackham - 'Advice from a Caterpillar' from ''Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'' (1907)

Advice from a Caterpillar

 

This illustration, depicting a seminal moment from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was prepared by Rackham for the

First Edition of his illustrated version of that book published in 1907.

 

Rackham's illustrations to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - published by William Heinemann (London) - chart the progress of the

tale: from meeting a group of animals swimming in a sea of her own tears (shortly after following the rabbit down the rabbit hole), the

Duchess' baby changing into a pig, the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, Alice's meeting with the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle and the trial of

the Knave of Hearts in which Alice is accused of stealing tarts.

 

In The Bookman (February 1908: Dodd, Mead and Company, New York), Philip Loring Allen explored Rackham's contribution to

Carroll's modern fairy tale saying:

 

If there is one place in the world or out of it where vested rights ought not to be respected, it certainly is Wonderland.

If ... Mr Rackham [has] ... something to add to our imperfect knowledge of that  delectable country ... [he is a]

benefactor.

 

Loring Allen's description of Rackham's 'Caterpillar' seems particularly apt:

 

... Rackham's Caterpillar ... is the only caterpillar that corresponds strictly to the specifications ... [his] snuffy, loose-lipped,

spectacled smoker wears the real air of authority. He cannot be imagined as ever turning into a butterfly or moth. If he

turns into anything it will be a bookworm. His eyes are dim with study and introspection. He is probably of German

extraction and his valedictory observation to Alice, "You'll get used to it in time," sounds like the answer to the Welträtsel.

Arthur Rackham - detail from 'Advice from a Caterpillar' from ''Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'' (1907)

 

The Caterpillar

 

 

 

"A Midsummer-Night's Dream"

 

       
Arthur Rackham - '... and her fairy sent, To bear him to my bower in fairy land' from ''A Misummer-Night's Dream'' (1908)

Act IV, Scene I

 

... and her fairy sent

To bear him to my bower in fairy land

 

This illustration, depicts a portion of a speech given by the character, Oberon, in Shakespeare's classic work, A Midsummer-Night's

Dream, as interpreted by Rackham for the First Edition of his illustrated version published in 1908.

 

Rackham's illustrations for A Midsummer-Night's Dream (1908) capture the dreamy and romantically magical character of

Shakespeare's text brilliantly.

 

Some example of the  critical reception for Rackham's suite of illustrations for Shakespeare's classic appear below.

 

"He is always at his best when his imagination has run free: he does not illustrate the play,

he prefers to take an idea from the text and turn it into a Rackhamian picture ..."

 

The Daily Chronicle

 

"It is not a luxury that spoils us, so much as the frequency of luxury, and when a fine talent

like Mr Rackham's is turned to the production of a beautiful volume once a year, it is odd

that we begin to lose a sense of privilege, and to regard the results as an annual due ... This

is the handsomest version of "A Midsummer-Night's Dream"  we have ever handled."

 

The Pall Mall Gazette

Arthur Rackham - detail from '... and her fairy sent, To bear him to my bower in fairy land' from ''A Misummer-Night's Dream'' (1908)

 

Fairy and Child

 

 

 

"Undine"

 

       
Arthur Rackham - 'Soon she was lost to sight in the Danube' from ''Undine'' (1909)

Soon she was lost to sight in the Danube

 

This illustration depicts the closing moments of Undine's period as a transformed water-nymph - afterwards, she was returned

to her life beneath the surface of the Mediterranean.

 

Rackham's illustrations to the classic tale, Undine, by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué, were published as a First Edition by

William Heinemann (London) in 1909. The tale conveys the story of the knight Haldbrand of Ringstetten and Undine.

Throughout the tale, we learn of how the Knight married a water-spirit and what followed, including the Knight's death

and burial and how Undine returned to her element beneath sea.

 

This suite is the first of a series of consecutive suites, including those for The Rhinegold and The Valyrie and Siegfried and

The Twilight of the Gods that were to be based in Germanic traditions.

 

The contemporary review published in The Studio (December 1909) provides some insight into the critical reception that

Rackham's suite received upon publication:

 

Mr. Rackham's conception of "Undine" is most admirable, and his drawing of this figure

unvarying in its charm. There is an amount of knowledge packed into these drawings of

the figure, too, which must please the most academic. But it is Mr. Rackham's singular

gift to infuse scholarship with caprice, and also with emotion. The front cover of the book

is very beautiful, and the get-up throughout will commend itself to every reader.

Arthur Rackham - detail from 'Soon she was lost to sight in the Danube' from ''Undine'' (1909)

 

Undine descending into the Danube

 

 

 

"The Rhinegold and The Valkyrie"

 

       
Arthur Rackham - 'The Rhine's fair children, Bewailing their lost gold, weep' from ''The Rhinegold and The Valkyrie'' (1910)

The Rhine's fair children,

Bewailing their lost gold, weep

 

This illustration is one of 34 colour designs by Rackham published in the First Edition of The Rhinegold and The Valkyrie (1910)

by William Heinemann (London).

 

Rackham's images for Wagner's classic interpretation of medieval Germanic legend were a marked departure from the style that

had contributed to his stellar reputation as a book illustrator - and he had concerns that they may not be well received, writing

to supporters comments such as those noted in correspondence to Rachel Fry:

 

I am very glad you like my illustrations. I am rather afraid that the books of mine that

are coming out this year and next, which illustrate Wagner's great Music-stories, the

"Ring of the Nibelungs", are not very well suited for those lucky people who haven't yet

finished the delightful adventure of growing up, but soon, perhaps, you will know and

be fond of Wagner's music and writings, and then you may like these drawings of mine

as well as the others.

 

Such concerns, however, were unfounded and the illustrations were greeted with critical approval upon publication, as

demonstrated by the critique published in The Bookman (1911):

 

His pictures have the large air of the operas - not seldom do they come near matching

the pictures in the mind of the opera-goer. His gods and goddesses have power, dignity,

and charm; the gnomes are grotesquely impressive ...

 

Arthur Rackham - detail from 'The Rhine's fair children, Bewailing their lost gold, weep' from ''The Rhinegold and The Valkyrie'' (1910)

 

The Rhine-Maidens bewail their lost gold

 

 

 

"Siegfried and The Twilight of the Gods"

 

       
Arthur Rackham - 'The Rhine-Maidens obtain possession of the ring and bear it off in triumph' from ''Siegfried and The Twilight of the Gods'' (1911)

The Rhine-Maidens obtain possession of the ring and bear it off in triumph

 

This illustration is one of 30 colour designs by Rackham published in the First Edition of Siegfried and The Twilight of the

Gods (1911) by William Heinemann (London).

 

C S Lewis - the Irish-born British novelist, academic, literary critic, essayist, medievalist, lay theologian and Christian

apologist - held a lifelong passion for Rackham's illustrations for Wagner's Ring, noting that the illustrations were the

delight of his schooldays and recalled his first sighting of the complete set of illustrations from Siegfried and The Twilight

of the Gods (1911) thus:

 

There, on [my cousin's] drawing room table I found the very book ... which I had

never dared to hope I should see, "Siegfried and The Twilight of the Gods" illustrated

by Arthur Rackham. His pictures, which seemed to me to be the very music [of

Wagner] made visible, plunged me a few fathoms deeper into my delight. I have

seldom coveted anything as I coveted that book; and when I heard there was a

cheaper edition at 15 shillings ... I knew I could never rest until it was mine.

 

Such a response was also forthcoming in critiques of the illustrations, where Rackham's images were highly praised for their

vigorous depiction of movement, the masterful conception of scale, the presentation of subtle atmospheric touches and

the intelligent representation of the grotesque, the fanciful and the grandiose - as required by Wagner's work.

Arthur Rackham - detail from 'The Rhine-Maidens obtain possession of the ring and bear it off in triumph' from ''Siegfried and The Twilight of the Gods'' (1911)

 

The Rhine-Maidens in triumph

 

 

 

"The Romance of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table"

 

       
Arthur Rackham - 'How Sir Launcelot fought with the friendly Dragon' from ''The Romance of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table'' (1917)

How Sir Launcelot fought with the friendly Dragon

 

This illustration is one of 16 colour designs by Rackham published in the First Edition of The Romance of King Arthur and

His Knights of the Round Table (1917) by The Macmillan Company (London and New York).

 

Some insight into Rackham's preparation of the illustrations for this commission is provided by Hamilton (1990) in

Arthur Rackham: A Life with Illustration:

 

In preparing for the commission, Rackham turned to his own copy of Beardsley's

Morte D'Arthur and, following the pattern of the Beardsley version, drew square

and rectangular chapter headings to be set at irregular intervals up and down

the page. As in Beardsley, these have a stark black and white appearance, though

Rackham cannot resist the occasional wryly humorous touch such as a barking

dog or a jester's head. The closest Rackham comes to Beardsley, however, is in his

illustration of 'Sangreal', a flaming lidded chalice carried by an attenuated

golden-haired white-robed maiden. This homage to Aubrey is based closely on

Beardsley's own angel in 'The Achieving of the Sangreal', the frontispiece to

Volume Two of Morte D'Arthur.

 

Rackham's illustrations for The Romance of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table (1917), including his colour,

monotone and marginal designs, are superb.

 

 

Arthur Rackham - detail from 'How Sir Launcelot fought with the friendly Dragon' from ''The Romance of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table'' (1917)

 

Sir Launcelot and the friendly Dragon

 

 

 

"The Springtide of Life"

 

       
Arthur Rackham - 'Summer's rose-garlanded train' in ''The Springtide of Life'' (1918)

Summer's rose-garlanded train

 

This illustration is one of 9 colour designs by Rackham published in the First Edition of The Springtide of Life (1918) by

William Heinemann (London).

 

In the Preface to The Springtide of Life (1918), Gosse made comment on Rackham's involvement in the publication thus:

 

One reason why Swinburne never brought out such a collection was his failure to

find an artist who could interpret to his satisfaction the simplicity and freshness of

his verses. We are fortunate in having secured, in Mr Arthur Rackham, one whose

delicate and romantic fancy is in sensitive harmony with Swinburne's, and who

understands, no less than he did, how "Heaven lies about us in our infancy".

 

As a friend to Swinburne and one of the most well-regarded literary critics of his age, Gosse was well-suited to introducing

the selection of Swinburne's work and providing comment on Rackham's illustrations. Indeed, he was so taken by those

illustrations that he wrote to Rackham personally in 1918 saying:

 

This volume will not merely be the best book of the present art-season, but a joy to

all sensitive people for years and years to come.

 

Arthur Rackham - detail of 'Summer's rose-garlanded train' in ''The Springtide of Life'' (1918)

 

A Satyr collecting roses

 

 

 

"Irish Fairy Tales"

 

       
Arthur Rackham - 'The waves of all the worlds seemed to whirl past them in one huge green cataract' from ''Irish Fairy Tales'' (1920)

The waves of all the worlds seemed to whirl past them in one huge green cataract

 

This illustration is one of 16 colour designs by Rackham published in the First Edition of Irish Fairy Tales (1920) by

MacMillan and Co. Ltd (London).

 

It is associated with the tale of "Becuma of the White Skin" and depicts Art (son of Conn the Hundred Fighter - High

King of Ireland) returning from his quest to find Delvcaem (daughter of Morgan) and thus, relieve the evil

enchantment wrought by Becuma.

 

Rackham's suite of illustrations provide a visual interpretation of the tales collected by Stephens and show a genuine

affinity with Celtic aesthetes and artistic traditions. Those images are regarded as among Rackham's most accomplished

in the decade and some are most noteworthy for the complementary integration of elaborate borders within the image.

 

In The Review (Vol. 3: 1920), Pearson commented on Stephens' text and Rackham's illustrations thus:

 

Children may enjoy it, but like Arthur Rackham's exquisite illustrations,

it will be fully appreciated only by more sophisticated readers.

 

The critique published in The Independent (25 December, 1920) said as follows:

 

James Stephens' writing has the gift of everlasting youth. Arthur Rackham's

drawing have inherent magic. Wherefore the two are fortunately met in a

new book, primarily for children, but also full of appeal to grown-ups with

a sense of humor.

Arthur Rackham - detail depicting Art and Delvcaem in 'The waves of all the worlds seemed to whirl past them in one huge green cataract' from ''Irish Fairy Tales'' (1920)

 

Art and Delvcaem

 

 

 

"Comus"

 

       
Arthur Rackham - 'By dimpled Brook, and Fountain brim, The Wood-Nymphs, deckt with Daisies trim, Their merry wakes and pastimes keep' from ''Comus'' (1921)

By dimpled Brook, and Fountain brim,

The Wood-Nymphs, deckt with Daisies trim,

Their merry wakes and pastimes keep

 

This illustration is one of 24 colour designs by Rackham published in the First Edition of Comus (1921) co-published by

William Heinemann (London) and Doubleday, Page and Co. (New York).

 

Comus (1921) was an illustrated variant of the 17th Century moral tale by John Milton, The Masque of Comus.

The Masque of Comus was borne from a collaboration between John Milton and Henry Lawes. It tells a story about virtue

and grace, two matters upon which Milton had meditated profoundly. The tale is of a lady, lost from her brothers in a wood,

who is threatened by the son of Bacchus and Circe. The loss of her virginity follows but through supernatural means, she is

saved.

 

The original performance of The Masque of Comus was before the Earl of Bridgewater on the occasion of his becoming

Lord President of Wales. Performed at Ludlow Castle, the parts of the Lady and her two brothers were played by three

children of the Earl, and the part of "Thyrsis the Attendant Spirit" by Lawes himself.

 

A review in The New York Times  published on 4 December 1921 provided the following critique of Rackham's Comus:

 

Another old masterpiece in new garments is the Arthur Rackham illustrated edition

of John Milton's Comus ... [i]t is quite likely that Milton would have been paralyzed

beyond the use of words could he see it - but, then, as Milton was blind, that is not

saying so much for the book as it really deserves.

Arthur Rackham - detail showing Wood-Nymphs in 'By dimpled Brook, and Fountain brim, The Wood-Nymphs, deckt with Daisies trim, Their merry wakes and pastimes keep' from ''Comus'' (1921)

 

Wood-Nymphs

 

 

 

"Hawthorne's Wonder Book"

 

       
Arthur Rackham - 'There was no danger, no trouble of any kind and no clothes to be mended, and there was always plenty to eat and drink' from ''Hawthorne's Wonder Book'' (1922)

There was no danger, nor trouble of any kind and no clothes

to be mended, and there was always plenty to eat and drink

 

This illustration is one of 16 colour designs by Rackham published in the First Edition of Hawthorne's Wonder Book (1922)

published by Hodder and Stoughton Ltd (London).

 

Hawthorne's Wonder Book (1922) was the First Edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic tales illustrated by Arthur Rackham.

 

Tales within that Edition included: 'The Gorgon's Head'; 'The Golden Touch'; 'The Paradise of Children'; 'The Three Golden Apples';

'The Miraculous Pitcher'; and 'The Chimaera'.

 

Written as tales within a tale, Hawthorne presents the stories as being told to a group of children at Tanglewood, an Estate in Lenox, Massachusetts (where Hawthorne lived for a period), by Eustace Bright, a Williams College student.

 

In promoting Hawthorne's Wonder Book (1922) for the United States market, Doran described the book thus:

 

Hawthorne's classic text illustrated by this most beloved of al children's illustrators.

The most beautiful children's book of the year.

 
Arthur Rackham - detail of 'There was no danger, no trouble of any kind and no clothes to be mended, and there was always plenty to eat and drink' from ''Hawthorne's Wonder Book'' (1922)

 

An ideal time to be alive

 

 

 

"The Tempest"

 

       
Arthur Rackham - 'Each one, tripping on his toe, Will be here with mop and mow' from ''The Tempest'' (1926)

Act IV: Scene I, line 46

 

Each one, tripping on his toe,

Will be here with mop and mow

 

This illustration is one of 21 colour designs by Rackham published in the First Edition of The Tempest (1926) co- published

by William Heinemann Ltd (London) and Doubleday, Page and Company (New York).

 

Shakespeare's The Tempest  weaves a tale around themes as diverse as betrayal, sorcery and witchcraft, spiritual forces,

revenge and forgiveness - themes which revolve around the central character, Prospero. Prospero is the sorceror who,

prior to being stranded on an island after being betrayed by his brother, had been the rightful Duke of Milan. After twelve

years stranded with his daughter, Miranda, a spirit companion, Ariel and a deformed monster, Caliban, Prospero has the

opportunity to wreck a passing boat carrying his brother by conjuring a tempest to drive the vessel to annihilation - and

thereafter begins Prospero's journey towards reconciliation with his brother and the magical return of all to Italy who

came hence.

 

Rackham's illustrations to accompany the Shakespearean verse are characteristically superb, with the magical themes and

creatures of The Tempest - including Ariel, the Nymphs and Reapers - depicted in a dramatically sensuous form.

 

Hudson (Arthur Rackham: His Life and Works: 1960) made the following comment on Rackham's stylistic approach to

The Tempest (1926):

 

In 1926 an exciting original edition of The Tempest showed Rackham experimenting

in a simplified dramatic technique that was refreshingly and effectively 'modern'. 

Arthur Rackham - detail showing and Elf and a Fairy in 'Each one, tripping on his toe, Will be here with mop and mow' from ''The Tempest'' (1926)

 

An Elf and a Fairy

 
           

 

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