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Biography – Arthur Rackham

Arthur Rackham (19 September 1867 – 6 September 1939) was an English book illustrator. He is recognised as one of the leading literary figures during the Golden Age of British book illustration. His work is noted for its robust pen and ink drawings, which were combined with the use of watercolour. Rackham’s 51 colour pieces for the Early American tale became a turning point in the production of books since – through colour-separated printing – it featured the accurate reproduction of colour artwork. Some of his best-known works include the illustrations for Rip Van WinklePeter Pan in Kensington Gardens, and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm.

Rackham was born in Lewisham, then still part of Kent, as one of 12 children. In 1884, at the age of 17, he was sent on an ocean voyage to Australia to improve his fragile health, accompanied by two aunts. At the age of 18, he worked as a clerk at the Westminster Fire Office and began studying part-time at the Lambeth School of Art.

In 1892, he left his job and started working for the Westminster Budget as a reporter and illustrator. His first book illustrations were published in 1893 in To the Other Side by Thomas Rhodes, but his first serious commission was in 1894 for The Dolly Dialogues, the collected sketches of Anthony Hope, who later went on to write The Prisoner of Zenda. Book illustrating then became Rackham’s career for the rest of his life.

By the turn of the century, Rackham had developed a reputation for pen and ink fantasy illustration with richly illustrated gift books such as The Ingoldsby Legends (1898), Gulliver’s Travels and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm (both 1900). This was developed further through the austere years of the Boer War with regular contributions to children’s periodicals such as Little Folks and Cassell’s Magazine. In 1901 he moved to Wychcombe Studios near Haverstock Hill, and in 1903 married his neighbour Edyth Starkie. Edith suffered a miscarriage in 1904, but the couple had one daughter, Barbara, in 1908. Although acknowledged as an accomplished black-and-white book illustrator for some years, it was the publication of his full colour plates to Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle by Heinemann in 1905 that particularly brought him into public attention, his reputation being confirmed the following year with J.M.Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, published by Hodder & Stoughton. Income from the books was greatly augmented by annual exhibitions of the artwork at the Leicester Galleries. 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.

From 1906 the family lived in Chalcot Gardens, near Haverstock Hill, until moving from London to Houghton, West Sussex in 1920. In 1929 the family settled into a newly built property in Limpsfield, Surrey. Arthur Rackham died in 1939 of cancer at his home.

Arthur Rackham is 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. During that period, there was a strong market for high quality illustrated books which typically were given as Christmas gifts. Many of Rackham’s books were produced in a de luxe limited edition, often vellum bound and usually signed, as well as a smaller, less ornately bound quarto ‘trade’ edition. This was sometimes followed by a more modestly presented octavo edition in subsequent years for particularly popular books. The onset of the war in 1914 curtailed the market for such quality books, and the public’s taste for fantasy and fairies also declined in the 1920s.

Arthur Rackham’s works have become very popular since his death, both in North America and Britain. His images have been widely used by the greeting card industry and many of his books are still in print or have been recently available in both paperback and hardback editions. His original drawings and paintings are keenly sought at the major international art auction houses.

Rackham’s illustrations were chiefly based on robust pen and India ink drawings. Rackham gradually perfected his own uniquely expressive line from his background in journalistic illustration, paired with subtle use of watercolour, a technique which he was able to exploit due to technological developments in photographic reproduction. With this development, Rackham’s illustrations no longer needed an engraver (who lack Rackham’s talent) to cut clean lines on a wood or metal plate for printing because the artist merely had his works photographed and mechanically reproduced.

Rackham would first lightly block in shapes and details of the drawing with a soft pencil, for the more elaborate colour plates often utilising one of a small selection of compositional devices. Over this, he would then carefully work in lines of pen and India ink, removing the pencil traces after the drawing had begun to take form. For colour pictures, Rackham preferred the 3-colour process or trichromatic printing, which reproduced the delicate half-tones of photography through letterpress printing. He would begin painting by building up multiple thin washes of watercolour creating translucent tints. One of the disadvantages of the 3-colour (later 4-colour) printing process in the early years was that definition could be lost in the final print. Rackham would sometimes compensate for this by over-inking his drawings once more after painting. He would also go on to expand the use of silhouette cuts in illustration work, particularly in the period after the First World War, as exemplified by his Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella.

Typically, Rackham contributed both colour and monotone illustrations towards the works incorporating his images – and in the case of Hawthorne’s Wonder Book, he also provided a number of part-coloured block images similar in style to Meiji era Japanese woodblocks.

Rackham’s work is often described as a fusion of a northern European ‘Nordic’ style strongly influenced by the Japanese woodblock tradition of the early 19th century.

Notable works:-

  • The Zankiwank and the Bletherwitch by Shafto Justin Adair Fitzgerald (40 line, 1896)
  • Two Old Ladies, Two Foolish Fairies, and a Tom Cat by Maggie Browne (pseudonym of Margaret Hamer) (4 colour plates, 19 line, 1897)
  • Feats on the Fjord by Harriet Martineau (f/p colour, 11 line, 1899)
  • The Greek Heroes by Barthold Georg Niebuhr (4 colour plates, 8 line, 1903)
  • Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving (51 colour plates, 3 line, 1905)
  • Puck of Pook’s Hill by Rudyard Kipling (4 colour plates; 1906, Doubleday, Page & Co. (one US ed.))
  • Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by J.M. Barrie (49 colour plates, 1906)
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (13 colour plates, 15 line, 1907)
  • The Ingoldsby Legends by Thomas Ingoldsby (12 colour, 80 line 1898; reworked edition 23 colour plates, 73 line, 1907)
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare (40 colour plates, 34 line, 1908)
  • Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb (colour F/P, 11 line 1899, reworked edition 12 colour plates, 37 line, 1909)
  • Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm by the Brothers Grimm (95 line, 1900, reworked edition 40 colour plates, 62 line, 1909)
  • Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (Colour F/P, 11 line 1900, reworked edition 12 colour plates, 34 line, 1909)
  • Undine by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué (15 colour plates, 41 line, 1909)
  • The Rhinegold and The Valkyrie by Richard Wagner (34 colour plates, 8 line, 1910)
  • Siegfried and Twilight of the Gods by Richard Wagner (32 colour plates, 8 line, 1911)
  • Aesop’s Fables by Aesop (13 colour plates, 82 line, 1912)
  • Arthur Rackham’s Book of Pictures (44 colour plates, 1913)
  • Mother Goose: The Old Nursery Rhymes by Charles Perrault (13 colour plates, mostly reprinted from the US monthly St. Nicholas Magazine, 78 line, 1913)
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (12 colour plates, 1915)
  • The Allies’ Fairy Book with an introduction by Edmund Gosse (12 colour plates, 23 line 1916)
  • Little Brother and Little Sister and Other Tales by the Brothers Grimm (13 colour plates, 45 line, 1917)
  • The Romance of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table by Alfred W. Pollard (23 colour and monotone plates, 16 line, 1917)
  • English Fairy Tales by Flora Annie Steel (16 colour plates, 43 line, 1918)
  • The Springtide of Life: Poems of Childhood by Algernon Charles Swinburne (8 colour plates, 1918)
  • Some British Ballads (16 colour plates, 23 line, 1918)
  • Cinderella by Charles Perrault, ed. Charles S. Evans (1 colour plate, 60 silhouettes, 1919)
  • The Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, ed. Charles S. Evans (1 colour plate, 65 silhouettes, 1920)
  • Irish Fairy Tales by James Stephens (16 colour plates, 20 line, 1920)
  • Snowdrop and Other Tales by the Brothers Grimm (20 colour plates, 29 line, 1920)
  • Comus by John Milton (22 colour plates, 35 line, 1921)
  • A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys by Nathaniel Hawthorne (16 colour plates, 21 line, 1922)
  • Poor Cecco by Margery Williams (7 colour plates, 12 line, 1925)
  • The Tempest by William Shakespeare (20 colour plates, 20 line, 1926)
  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (8 colour plates, 32 line, 1928)
  • The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith (12 colour plates, 23 line, 1929)
  • The Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton (12 colour plates, 22 line, 1931)
  • The King of the Golden River by John Ruskin (4 colour plates, 13 line, T/P 2 colour, 1932)
  • Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen (12 colour plates, 43 line, 9 silhouettes 1932)
  • Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti (4 colour plates, 19 line, E/P, 1933)
  • The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning (4 colour plates, 15 line, 1 silhouette, E/P, 1934)
  • Tales of Mystery & Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe (12 colour plates, 28 line, 1935)
  • Peer Gynt by Henrik Ibsen (12 colour plates, 38 line, 1936)
  • The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (16 colour plates; posthumous, 1940 US, 1950 UK)

Our Arthur Rackham DVD is crammed full of 650 great quality full-colour Public Domain Arthur Rackham pictures that can be used for practically anything you want to!

All of the images on this disc are out of copyright and in the public domain in the UK and all countries that follow the same copyright rules, and therefore can be used as many times as you like without paying any royalties or commissions to anyone!

The US version of this disc contains 12 less images to make it compatible with US copyright rules.

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