We’re going really far back in the past this week. Arthur Rackham (19 September 1867 – 6 September 1939) was an English book illustrator and widely regarded as one of the leading illustrators from the ‘Golden Age’ of British book illustration which roughly encompassed the years from 1890 until the end of the First World War.
Arthur had a reputation for pen and ink fantasy illustration with richly illustrated gift books like The Ingoldsby Legends (1907) which was based on the 19th Century collection of myths, legends, ghost stories and poetry prepared by Richard Harris Barham (under the pseudonym of Thomas Ingoldsby of Tappington Manor). Other gift books included Gulliver’s Travels and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm (both 1900).
Although acknowledged as an accomplished black-and-white book illustrator for some years, it was the publication of his full-color plates to Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle by Heinemann in 1905 that particularly brought him to the public’s attention. The following year he followed it up by illustrating J.M.Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.
Rackham won a gold medal at the Milan International Exhibition in 1906 and another one at the Barcelona International Exposition in 1912. His works were included in numerous exhibitions, including one at the Louvre in Paris in 1914.
Also, Guillermo del Toro claimed Arthur’s style influenced the design of “The Faun” in Pan’s Labyrinth. He also liked the dark tone of his gritty realistic drawings and had decided to incorporate this into the film. In Hellboy, the design of the tree growing out of the altar in the ruined abbey off the coast of Scotland is actually referred to as a “Rackham tree” by the director.
Below is a tiny collection from his massive oeuvre. Enjoy!
As a young kid, not yet in my teens, I used to spent my summer vacations with my grandparents on their smallholding in Hoekwil, a village nestled high in the hills along the Garden Route in South Africa. That is where I first saw Arthur’s illustrations in a book my grandmother gave me. She had tons of books and each vacation felt like a treasure hunt as I discovered new stories to devour. I don’t recall whether it was Rip Van Winkle or Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods and mind you, it could have been Grimm’s Fairy Tales for all I know, but I still remember the ambiance generated by Arthur’s illustrations.
This happened so long ago my recollection is hazy at best, and yet, I remember the feeling more than anything else of paging through an old hardback with yellowed, crinkly pages and staring at the scraggly lines of Arthur’s illustrations. My young mind found them utterly fascinating and even scary because of the way he drew some of the characters. The pointy-toed shoes and scrawny necks and weird angular bodies were strange and silly and yet I kept reading. Those were the discovery days. Fairy tales served as my gateway to further fantasy.
Anyway, my eyes are tired and eyelids heavy and I’m not very successful at keeping them open at the moment. Besides, it’s almost 2 AM here and I need to get up early.
Chat to you soon.