Happy Birthday Arthur Rackham!

Last week marked the 146th anniversary of the birth of Arthur Rackham, illustrator extraordinaire. Best known for his work on children's books, fairytales, and classics, Arthur Rackham's distinctive style continues to be recognized and admired by modern illustrators, art lovers, and readers alike.

Arthur Rackham was born on September 19, 1867 to Anne and Alfred Rackham.  One of twelve children, Arthur grew up to follow in his father's footsteps and began work as a clerk with an insurance company when he was eighteen.  He soon grew bored with that and began taking night classes at a nearby art school.  In 1892, he began work as a full time illustrator with the Westminster Budget where his drawings of everyday life in London and famous personalities were a hit.  They were so popular that he often was assigned to draw royal events, such as the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of York in 1893, who would later be known as King George V and Queen Mary.

As photography began to become more popular in the newspapers, Rackham turned to book illustrations, contributing for several travel books and developing his style by contributing to other works before his first major success in the form of the illustrated Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales in 1900.  The book that really put him on the map, as it were, was his 1905 illustrated Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving.  In this book, Rackham's iconic style is fully developed and becomes enormously popular with each successive year seeing at least one new work published with illustrations by Arthur Rackham.

Rackham is known for various elements that combine in his work such as:

  • flowing lines
  • muted watercolors
  • backgrounds with hidden images or "surprising information"
  • a balance between sensuousness and chastity in his fairies and nymphs
  • just the right amount of ugliness to not be frightening in his trolls
  • forests filled with twisted trees
  • the juxtaposition of the frightening with the beautiful in a single image

In addition to his stunning watercolor prints, Rackham would more frequently do black and white line drawings.  Occasionally he would experiment with silhouette, and this is showcased beautifully in his illustrated The Sleeping Beauty (shown below).

The Sleeping Beauty

Rackham continued his illustrative work until his death from cancer on September 6, 1939.  His last work, completed just before his death, was an illustrated Wind in the Willows that was published posthumously in 1940.

We have a wide range of books and folios showcasing Arthur Rackham's work, including those from the Limited Editions Club and some first editions.  So if you get the chance, come celebrate the life of one of the most beloved children's/fairytale illustrators with us here at Special Collections.

Sources used:

"About Arthur Rackham." The Arthur Rackham Society. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Sept. 2013. <http://arthur-rackham-society.org/about_the_artist.html>. 
"Arthur Rackham." Arthur Rackham. N.p., 1998. Web. 16 Sept. 2013. <http://www.bpib.com/illustrat/rackham.htm>.
"Rackham 101." Aleph-Bet Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Sept. 2013. <http://www.alephbet.com/arthur-rackham-101.php>.
Scott, LaRue. "Arthur Rackham Illustrations." British Heritage 24.4 (2003): 52. EBSCOhost. Web. 18 Sept. 2013. <http://ehis.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?sid=9321715c-f7d8-456c-a626-c6de6fb3fc32%40sessionmgr11&vid=1&hid=5&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=f5h&AN=9676268>.

Author Self-Portrait:

http://www.art-prints-on-demand.com/kunst/arthur_rackham/self_portrait.jpg

Amy Spencer is a student assistant in Special Collections and Rare Books.

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