Arthur Rackham, his career and works
Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) is one of the great artists associated with "The Golden Age of Illustration" (a period that is generally placed between the 1880s and 1930s).
Rackham's capacity to artistically interpret and represent the lore of fairy tales, myths, fables and legend was prodigious. The artwork of Arthur Rackham continues to captivate lovers of art, illustration and fairy tales. In his early career, Rackham had gained considerable critical success as noted in the comments of Baldry in The Studio of April 1905. Later, but still in his own lifetime, Briggs Latimore and Clark Haskel (Arthur Rackham: A Biography, Suttonhouse, Los Angeles, (1936), provided the following comments on his skills:
"In imagination, draftsmanship and colour-blending, his work stands alone. His deep understanding of the spirit of myth, fable, and folklore affords him a transcendent range of expression".
Illustrations by Arthur Rackham for fairy tales, myths and legends 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, fair maidens depicted by Rackham are sensuous - yet somehow chaste - and his ogres and trolls ugly enough to repulse, but with sufficient good nature not to frighten.
Fairy tales, myths and legends to benefit from Rackham's artistic interpretation included works by authors including: Barrie; Barham; Carroll; Shakespeare; the Brothers Grimm; de la Motte Fouqué; Wagner; Aesop; Dickens; Malory; Stephens; Milton; Hawthorne; Irving; Moore; Poe; and Ibsen.
Hudson (Arthur Rackham: His Life and Work, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1960) called Rackham "the leading decorative illustrator of the Edwardian period" and nearly a century after his first illustrations were published, Hamilton (Arthur Rackham: A Life with Illustration, Pavilion Books Ltd, London, 1990) provided the following comment on his skills:
"Rackham's illustrations to Grimm, Hans Andersen or Poe show him at his most imaginative and observant of human nature, while his gnomes, fairies and gnarled anthropomorphic trees in "Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens" or "A Midsummer Night's Dream" represent his more fantastic side.... He was - and remains - a soloist in front of an orchestra, a player with the responsibility to interpret and add a personal lustre to great works with variations of infinite subtlety and grace".
While we have provided links for various products available through Amazon throughout this Hub, you may also like to consider the wider range available at the Arthur Rackham Collection shown at the 'Spirit of the Ages' Museum.
Arthur Rackham's illustrations for "Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens" (1906)
Published by Hodder & Stoughton (London) in 1906, Arthur Rackham's illustrated Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens was a 'tour de force'.
For this First Edition, Rackham turns 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).
Many adventures - including the dangerous flight to Neverland and confrontations with Captain Hook - follow through chapters entitled: "The Grand Tour of the Gardens"; "Peter Pan"; "The Thrush's Nest"; "Lock-Out Time"; "The Little House"; and "Peter's Goat".
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".
The author, himself, wrote to Rackham after viewing an exhibition of the illustrations extending his thanks for the artists work:
"I think I like best of all the Serpentine with the fairies and the Peter in his nightgown sitting in the tree. Next I like the flying Peters, the fairies going to the ball (as in the 'tiff' and the fairy on cobweb) - the faires sewing the leaves with their sense of fun (the gayest thing this) and your treatment of snow. I am always your debtor ...".
In 1912, Rackham revised his illustrations for Peter Pan in Kensington Gardensand an expanded suite was published that included a new color illustration (presented as the frontispiece) and many more monotone illustrations.
Rackham's illustrations for Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens epitomise the sublime nature of his style.
Arthur Rackham's illustrations for "The Ingoldsby Legends" (1907)
The Ingoldsby Legends (1907) is an illustrated book 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).
For The Ingoldsby Legends (1907), Arthur Rackham revised and adapted his illustrations to the Edition first published in 1898. His 'Prefatory Note' to the 1907 provides an outline of task, thus:
In 1898 Messrs. Dent and Co. first published the "Ingoldsby Legends" with about one hundred illustrations of mine.
This book has met with a very satisfactory reception, but the publishers have felt with me that, with the addition of some new drawings, a careful overhauling would make it worthy of publication in a more important form, in which greater prominence could be given to the illustrations by better and larger reproductions, including a greater number of illustrations in color.
To this end the following has been done:
- The frontispiece and the colored illustration facing page 508 have been specially drawn, and all the other illustrations in color have been worked on to a considerable extent, and specially colored for this edition. A few illustrations in the earlier edition have been omitted, and in their place have been added those facing page 254 and on pages vi, 25, 37, 316, 320 and 333.
- Many of the pen drawings have been reconsidered and worked on again - those which have been worked on to any great extent being now signed with both dates, 1898 and 1907. Of the rest, reproductions on a larger scale have been made in all but a few cases, and the text has been revised and entirely reset for this edition.
Following Rackham's revisions for the 1907 Edition, the suite of published illustrations included 24 full color plates, a further 12 tinted illustrations and more than 60 monotone images.
The 'Publisher's Note' provides further insight into the revision process thus:
It has been the desire of the Publishers to here present the "Ingoldsby Legends" in something like an Edition Définitive de Luxe.
It has been carefully read with the edtions finally corrected by the Author, and has been re-set in a fine type, while Mr. Arthur Rackham, in his hundred illustrations, has entered heartily into the wild humor and phantasy of this favorite old classic.
The colored pictures, which owe so much to their delicacy of tint and fine line drawing, have all been reproduced by the Graphic Photo Engraving Co. in the latest and highest development of the three-color work, and the Publishers owe them thanks for their great care in copying these originals and for their adequate and admirable results. The color printing has been done by Messrs. McFarlane and Erskine of Edinburgh, and the text by the Ballantyne Press of London, to whom also the Publishers wish to acknowledge their obligations.
Arthur Rackham's illustrations for "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" (1907)
Rackham's illustrations to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - first published in 1907 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.
"Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" was penned by Rev Charles Lutwidge Dodgson - also known as Lewis Carroll - in 1863. The tale arose from a story Dodgson had improvised during a row up the Thames with his colleague, Rev Robinson Duckworth, and three little girls, the Liddell sisters: Lorina Charlotte; Alice Pleasance; and Edith Mary.
In The Bookman (February 1908: Dodd, Mead and Company, New York), Philip Loring Allen explored Rackham's illustrative 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 describes Rackham's illustrations throughout his critique in the following manner:
... Rackham alone has drawn Alice at that remarkable crisis when she has nibbled the right-hand bit of mushroom, and shutting up suddenly like a telescope, has received "a violent blow underneath her chin from her own foot" ...
... Rackham's lady, with her high beak-nose, her ermine, ostrich plumes and false curls is every inch a Duchess, probably a Dowager Duchess ...
... Rackam's [Mock Turtle] is ... delicate and anaemic, pensive and sentimental ...
... Rackham's Caterpillar ... is the only caterpillar that corresponds strictly to the specifications
... [his] snuffy, loose-lipped, spectacles 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.
... The real daring change made by Rackham is in bringing this little heroine down to date. Most of us doubtless will continue to love the old Alice best, but the modern little figure does bear one message of its own. It tells us that the gate of Wonderland has never been closed, that it never will be closed, and that to the children of the twentieth century, old and young, as to their children and grandchildren, it is still given to eat now and then of the magic fruit of the Amfalula tree in whose boughs the Dinkey bird sings.
Arthur Rackham's illustrations for "A Midsummer-Night's Dream" (1908)
"A Midsummer-Night's Dream" is a romantic comedy emanating from the genius of William Shakespeare. It tells a tale of four Athenian lovers, a group of amateur actors and their interactions with the Duke and Duchess of Athens and the fairies who lived in a moonlit forest.
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.
The Daily Chronicle
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 ...
... a Rackham tree; one of those trees, gnarled and black and twisted ... sprung from seed found in the fancies of Dürer .... but appearing as trees that only one man has ever perceived or drawn ...
The Pall Mall Gazette
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 public reception to Rackham's interpretation of "A Midsummer-Night's Dream" was also successful, both at the time of the First Edition and for the rest of his life. As noted by Hamilton (1990) in Arthur Rackham: A Life with Illustration:
By March 1909, three months after the publication, the entire de luxe edition of 1,000 copies had been sold out, and of the 15,000 trade copies, 7,650 had been sold. The English edition remained in print and paid him royalties until the end of his life.
Arthur Rackham's illustrations for "The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm" (1909)
The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm (1909) is a collection of the classic Grimm's tales with an updated and enlarged range of illustrations from Arthur Rackham.
The great illustrator notes the factors leading to the 1909 Edition in his Prefatory Note to the volume, thus:
Some years ago a selection of "Grimm's Fairy Tales" with one hundred illustrations of mine in black and white was published - in 1900, by Messrs. Freemantle and Co., and afterwards by Messrs. Archibald Constable & Co., Ltd.
At intervals since then I have been at work on the original drawings, partially or entirely re-drawing some of them in color, adding new ones in color and in black and white, and generally overhauling them as a set, supplementing and omitting, with a view to the present edition.
Of the forty colored illustrations, many are elaborations of the earlier black and white drawings or are founded on them. The frontispiece, and those facing pages 34, 70, 94, 104, 116, 118, and 190 are entirely new, and several of the text illustrations also have not been published before. The remaining illustrations in the text have been reconsidered and worked on again to a greater or lesser degree.
A contemporary review published in The Studio (December 1909) provides an insight into the critical reception of this revised treatment of Rackham's illustrations for "The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm (1909):
Mr. Rackham's genius is at its best in subjects that are weird and imaginative, and in this work he has had a wide scope for his talents. But Mr. Rackham's work is not always weird, for, when occasion demands, his drawings are full of quiet beauty and graceful composition. His consummate draughtsmanship is always evident, and particularly so in his illustrations to "Grimm." These wonderful stories have never been so worthily illustrated as in this volume.
Arthur Rackham's illustrations for "Undine" (1909)
"Undine" as retold de la Motte Fouqué tells 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 the Mediterranean Sea.
Rackham's illustrations to Undine (1909) are among the first of a series of consecutive suites 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".
The suite of illustrations includes what - as recorded in a letter from Rackham to N Carroll in 1931 - was among his favourite images, that captioned "Undine outside the window". Also noteworthy is Rackham's own wonderful variation on the composition of Dürer's "Knight, Death and the Devil" in his illustration that is associated with the following caption: "Little niece," said Kühleborn, "forget not that I am here with thee as a guide".
Arthur Rackham's illustrations for "The Rhinegold & The Valkyrie" (1910)
The Rhinegold & The Valkyrie (1910), as illustrated by Arthur Rackham, presents some examples of his adult-oriented illustrations. His powerful images interpret Wagner's dramatic work wonderfully and emerge from each page with significant force and stirring emotion.
Rackham, himself, recognised the stylistic changes required for the dramatic content of Wagner's work, noting in an interview with The Daily News:
"The work I have just finished is different from any of my other productions, for the reason that it is of more serious interest".
He also appreciated that such changes could affect the public reception of his work, as noted in his comments contained in correspondence to Margaret Farjeon:
"I am very glad you like my "Ring". I quite expected to make as many enemies with it as friends".
Similar sentiments are reflected in his comments contained 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 concern, 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 godesses have power, dignity, and charm; the gnomes are grotesquely impressive ...".
Rackham's suite of designs for The Rhinegold & The Valkyrie (1910) showed an interpretation of Wagner's "Ring of Nibelung" arising from an inexhaustible creative imagination - moving seamlessly from depicting timeless serenity to heavenly despair (and the vast range of emotion in between those extremes). That suite of illustrations included 34 tipped-in colour plates and more than a dozen monotone illustrations.
Arthur Rackham's illustrations for "Siegfried & The Twilight of the Gods" (1911)
Siegfried and The Twilight of the Gods (1911) - as illustrated by Arthur Rackham - presents the third of consecutive published suites that were prepared to illustrate Germanic traditions and, in this case, it included extensive colour and monotone images to complete his interpretation of Wagner's "Ring of Nibelung".
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.
The critical reception of Siegfried and The Twilight of the Gods (1911) matched the personal reception of the young C S Lewis, as noted in the following extract from The Bookman (1912):
Here Mr. Arthur Rackham's illustrations enter into competition with some of the finest and most adequate stage realisations ever witnessed. But Mr. Rackham need not fear the comparison.
It is sufficient to say to any one who saw last year the first volume of the Trilogy that the high standard of excellence there reached is here maintained. To those who did not one may mention enthusiastically the vigour and splendid movement, the largeness of conception and subtle atmosphere, and the grotesque, fanciful, or grandiose "feeling" for his subject which most of them show. Everything Mr. Rackham does has distinction and is within its intention almost always well done. Such intelligent illustration is a rare delight.
Rackham's suite of illustrations for the First Edition of Siegfried and The Twilight of the Gods (1911) included 30 tipped-in color plates and more monotone illustrations.
Arthur Rackham's illustrations for "Aesop's Fables" (1912)
The collection of Aesop's classic tales interpreted by Rackham were selected and introduced by G K Chesterton. As may be expected, Rackham's illustrations are masterful and a fitting complement to the text, which presents the morality tales with a touch of softness that is accessible to young readers.
The tales are drawn from those from Antiquity - created sometime between 620 and 560 BC by Aesop, a freedman, who had come to the court of Croesus, King of Lydia in Asia Minor. Aesop had been a slave on the island of Iadmon and had gained some fame as a narrator of tales about animals. Aesop gained favour with Croesus and was eventually retained as a representative for the Lydian Court in various Greek capitals. At Corinth he warned against mob rule in a fable later used by Socrates - in Athens, Socrates used the fable "The Frogs Desiring a King" to exemplify leaving well enough alone.
More than 2 millennia later, the essence and body of Aesop's fables are still alive and enjoyed and pondered over in many languages around the world.
Rackham's suite of illustrations for the First Edition of Aesop's Fables (1912) included 13 tipped-in color plates and more than 50 monotone illustrations. Presented for the 1912 Christmas season, Aesop's Fables carrying the Rackham's images saw a return to the commercial sales records similar to those that he had enjoyed with Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (1906).
Arthur Rackham's illustrations for "Mother Goose: The Old Nursery Rhymes" (1913)
Mother Goose: The Old Nursery Rhymes (1913) included a collection of traditional nursery rhymes selected by Arthur Rackham from his own childhood, as noted in the 'Foreword' to the book:
There are many more nursery rhymes than are included in this book, though I think most of the best known are here. I have chosen those I knew and liked best in my own nursery days, and I have kept to the versions that I was familiar with. I think one may do so, as nursery rhymes have until recently been handed on only by oral tradition with its inevitable variations.
At home we had no complete book of them: most we knew came direct from our elders. The children of the present day often have several different printed versions of the same rhyme, but they do not seem confused by them. They make their own choice, and go on inventing variations. And however much they alter and add to our old friend Mother Goose's original collection, they still make use of her name.
As with Aesop's Fables (1912) released the previous year, Rackham's return to illustrating 'books for the nursery' was a commercial success, with more than 6,000 copies of the trade version sold within the first 3 months of publication.
The suite of illustrations contributed by Rackham to Mother Goose: The Old Nursery Rhymes (1913) included 13 color plates and more than 80 monotone images.
For the Edition published for The Century Co. (New York), Rackham prepared a full page colour illustrated Title Page in the style of an antique sampler - that illustration is known as "The house that Jack built".
Arthur Rackham's illustrations for "A Christmas Carol" (1915)
A Christmas Carol (1915) is an illustrated version of Dickens' classic Victorian morality tale co-published by J B Lippincott Co (Philadelphia) and William Heinemann (London) in 1915.
The text follows the traditional format - first published in 1843 - wherein the tale is divided into five staves that is the literal styling used by Dickens to describe the chapters (or verses).
The commission extended to Rackham for illustrating this publication was substituted by Heinemann for the intended "Comus".
Being the first Dickens tale to be illustrated by Rackham, his treatment of the ghostly and supernatural material seems restrained. Hamilton (1990) makes the following comment in Arthur Rackham: A Life with Illustration:
It is as if, in his choice of subject, he voluntarily passed by the opportunity to terrify his reader with too many ghosts and images of retribution, and chose instead to calm them with pictures of sliding on the ice in smoky London, dancing with Mrs Fezziwig and children bouncing about on Christmas Eve. Perhaps caught by the mood of national anxiety and tragedy of wartime, Rackham voluntarily softened his interpretation of Dickens' story in a way he might not have done eight or ten years earlier - or indeed twenty years later with Poe's "Tales".
Regardless of the reasons behind his stylistic approach to Dickens' text, Rackham's suite of 12 color and more monotone illustrations accompanying this classic tale of redemption from Dickens capture the period and tone of the text to wonderful effect.
Arthur Rackham's illustrations for "The Allies' Fairy Book" (1916)
The Allies' Fairy Book (1916) included a selection of traditional fairy tales from the Allied countries participating in World War I, including 'Jack the Giant Killer' (English); 'The Battle of the Birds' (Scottish); 'Lludd and Llevelys' (Welsh); 'Gulesh' (Irish); 'The Sleeping Beauty (French); 'Cesarino and the Dragon' (Italian); 'What came of picking flowers' (Portuguese); 'The Adventures of Little Peachling', 'The Fox's Wedding' and 'The Tongue-Cut Sparrow' (Japanese); 'Frost' (Russian); 'The Golden Apple-Tree and the Nine Peahens' (Serbian); and 'The Last Adventure of Thyl Ulenspiegel' (Belgian).
Comment within the Introduction by Edmund Gosse provides an interesting insight into the contemporary events relevant to the collection thus:
In presenting a selection of the fairy-stories of the Allies we make no the slightest pretence of being logical or historical. We are conscious of all the objections which may be brought against us by the learned, and we do not seek to rebut them. We are perfectly aware of the fact that variants of the stories we have chosen can be pointed out in the folk-lore of other nations than those with whom we have the happiness to be joined in our great national struggle to preserve the civilization of the world. But we think that the form in which every story we have chosen is told, although perhaps not the essence o the story itself, is characteristic of each particular country, and all that wee need say more is that it has amused us to bring together specimens of the folk-lore of the fighting friends of humanity.
We have not forgotten the almost universal distribution of fairy-tales, and the uniformity with which certain tradition reappears in the legends of one country after another. The "people of peace" have not politics and are ignorant of the elements of patriotism; at all events they own no allegiance to the particular States which they inhabit, and we cannot be sure what part they take in the quarrels and dissensions of mankind. So independent of racial prejudice are those creatures of the supernatural world that the only law they seem to recognize is the primitive one: "Be kind to those who are kind to you".
For The Allies' Fairy Book (1916), Rackham produced a suite of 12 color illustrations and more than 20 monotone drawings.
Upon release, Rackham's suite received critical praise in both his home market and the United States of America, including that appearing in The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs (Vol 29; 1916):
A pretty idea, to choose a fairy tale from the lore of each of the Allies, and bring them together to show how much is in common. England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales each contribute one, and Japan three; so here are thirteen fairy-stories, and an introduction (written with all the renowned grace of Edmund Gosse), which may open the eyes of readers, adult and infant, to the fascinating significance which modern research finds in the lore of the folk and the children. Mr Rackham's twelve colour-plates are right Rackham; and Rackham with more power and wealth in it than this artist's overworked fancy has always been able to exhibit of late. There are lots of little decorations, too, by the same hand, which are delicious.
Arthur Rackham's illustrations for "The Romance of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table" (1917)
The tone of the tale - and Rackham's accompanying imagery - is set in the first sentence of Pollard's Preface:
The story of King Arthur and his Knights is one of the greatest that men have ever made, greater by far than that of Charlemagne, which had come into fashion a little earlier, greater perhaps even than the Tale of Troy, already some two thousand years old, which for some centuries it eclipsed.
Pollard's version of Malory's "Morte d'Arthur" includes tales of: King Arthur; Sir Launcelot; Sir Gareth; Sir Tristram; Sir Launcelot and Dame Elaine; Sir Galahad and the Quest of the Holy Grail; and Launcelot, Guenever, and King Arthur.
Malory's own "Morte d'Arthur" was compiled from folk tales, with the addition of some original material related to Sir Gareth. The original version of the tales was first published by William Caxton in 1485 and the Malory's compilation is regarded as the best-known work of English-language Arthurian literature.
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 heardings 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 color, monotone and marginal designs - are magnificent.
Arthur Rackham's illustrations for "English Fairy Tales" (1918)
"English Fairy Tales" was a collection of traditional tales, as retold by Flora Annie Steel.
Steel was an accomplished author by the time she turned her attention to compiling a retelling of traditional English fairy tales, having previously gained success through her books involving Indian history, myths and legends.
From the age of 20, she lived for more than two decades in India before returning to Scotland in 1889.
The tales within English Fairy Tales (1918) included: 'St George of Merrie England'; 'The Story of the Three Bears'; 'Tom-Tit-Tot'; 'The Golden Snuff-box'; 'Tattercoats'; 'The Three Feathers'; 'Lazy Jack'; 'Jack the Giant-killer'; 'The Three Sillies'; 'The Golden Ball'; 'The Two Sisters'; 'The Laidly Worm'; 'Titty Mouse and Tatty Mouse'; 'Jack and the Beanstalk'; 'The Black Bull of Norroway'; 'Catskin'; 'The Three Little Pigs'; 'Nix Naught Nothing'; 'Mr and Mrs Vinegar'; 'The True History of Sir Thomas Thumb'; 'Henny-Penny'; 'The Three Heads of the Well'; 'Mr Fox'; 'Dick Whittington and his Cat'; 'The Old Woman and her Pig'; 'The Wee Bannock'; 'How Jack went out to seek his Fortune'; 'The Bogey-Beast'; 'Little Red Riding-hood'; 'Childe Rowland'; 'The Wise Men of Gotham'; 'Caporushes'; 'The Babes in the Wood'; 'The Red Ettin'; 'The Fish and the Ring'; 'Lawkamercyme'; 'Master of All Masters'; 'Molly Whuppie and the Double-faced Giant'; 'The Ass, The Table and the Stick'; 'The Well of the World's End' and 'The Rose Tree'.
The tales include a number that are well-known by their titles and many more that will be recognized as variants of familiar stories for childhood from the themes explored therein.
As illustrated by Arthur Rackham, the collection shows the artist's interpretation of tales with which he is intimately familiar.
The First Edition of English Fairy Tales (1918) with Rackham's images includes 16 color plates and more than 40 monotone illustrations.
Arthur Rackham's illustrations for "The Springtide of Life" (1918)
The Springtide of Life (1918) include a collection - compiled by Gosse - of works by Swinburne (those were drawn from four volumes of poetry: the second series of "Poems and Ballads"; "Tristram of Lyonesse and Other Poems"; "A Century of Roundels"; and "Poems and Ballads").
In his 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".
Gosse, himself, was an English poet, author and critic who was a friend of Swinburne and other poets and authors, including Robert Browning, Thomas Hardy, Henry James and Robert Louis Stevenson.
Such was the esteem in which he was held that he was the librarian to the House of Lords for a decade prior to his retirement in 1914.
As a friend of 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.
He had been so taken by the illustrations for The Springtide of Life (1918) that he wrote to Rackham personally 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's illustrations for "Some British Ballads" (1919)
Some British Ballads (1919) was an illustrated collection of traditional tales, including: '"Clerk Colvil"; "The Lass of Lochroyan"; "Young Bekie"; "Chevy Chase"; "The Gardener"; "The Gay Goshawk"; "Lord Thomas and Fair Annet"; "The Twa Corbies"; "Young Akin"; "Binnorie"; "Get Up and Bar the Door"; "The Riddling Knight"; "Lady Elspat"; "Johnnie of Cockerslee"; "The Old Cloak"; "Proud Lady Margaret"; "Young Andrew"; "Sir Patrick Spens"; "Lord Randal"; "The Twa Brothers'"; The Duke of Gordon's Daughter"; "The Barron of Braikly"; "The Lackmaben Harper"; "The False Lover Won Back"; "Lamkin"; "Bonnie George Campbell"; "Prince Robert"; "Earl Mar's Daughter"; "The Death of Parcy Reed"; "Hynd Horn"; "Helen of Kirconnell"; "The Bailiff's Daughter of Islington"; "Rare Willie Drowned in Yarrow"; "The Gypsy Laddie"; "Clyde Water"; "The Lady Turned Serving-Man"; "Earl Brand"; "Earl Richard"; "The Fair Flower of Northumberland"; and "The Wife of Usher's Well".
An example of the critical reception received by this suite is provided by The Connoisseur (Vol. LVI, 1920):
Few of Mr Rackham's work have been more consistently impressed with charm and beauty than his illustrations in colour to "Some British Ballads". In them he pictures a succession of fascinating heroines habited in quaint and picturesque costumes, amid surroundings which, though belonging to no definite place or period, are always appropriate and congruous. His heroes are hardly less charming than his heroines, and the scenes in which they are represented constitute a series of fascinating and delightful pictures ... one must feel grateful to Mr Rackham for giving us the prettiest picture book of the season.
The First Edition of Some British Ballads (1919) with Rackham's images includes 16 color plates and more than 20 monotone illustrations appearing as vignettes throughout the text.
Arthur Rackham's illustrations for "Irish Fairy Tales" (1920)
Irish Fairy Tales (1920) was a collection of traditional tales compiled by James Stephens, as illustrated by Arthur Rackham.
Rackham's suite of illustrations providing a visual interpretation of the tales collected by Stephens 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.
For this commission, Rackham received an advance from MacMillan and Company (London) of £1,000, contributing to the most profitable year of his artistic career (his income in 1920 reached a career peak of £6,409 [net]).
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.
The First Edition of Irish Fairy Tales (1920) was published with a suite of illustrations from Arthur Rackham including 16 color plates and more than 20 monotone illustrations.
Arthur Rackham's illustrations for "Comus" (1921)
Comus (1921) was an illustrated variant of the 17th Century moral tale by John Milton, "The Masque of Comus".
The publication has originally been scheduled for release the previous decade, but Rackham's commission was delayed due to commercial considerations that prevailed during World War I.
"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.
The First Edition of Comus (1921) was published with a suite of illustrations from Arthur Rackham including 24 color plates and more than 30 monotone illustrations.
Arthur Rackham's illustrations for "Hawthorne's Wonder Book" (1922)
Hawthorne's Wonder Book (1922) was the First Edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic tales illustrated by Arthur Rackham.
Tales within the First 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 all children's illustrators. The most beautiful children's book of the year.
Comment in the Bookseller and Stationer (Vol. 57: 1922) was consistent with the spruiking of Doran, referring to the title as "one of the loveliest of children's books". The critique continues, thus:
Mr Rackham has caught and interpreted in his inimitably splendid way much of the imaginative beauty of of the text in his color plates.
As illustrated by Arthur Rackham, the First Edition of Hawthorne's Wonder Book (1922) included 16 tipped-in color plates, a number of two- and three-toned fullpage illustrations and many more monotone illustrations.
Arthur Rackham's illustrations for "The Tempest" (1926)
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 - a thereafter begins Prospero's journey towards reconciliation with his brother and the return of all to Italy through his magical powers of all those 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":
In 1926 an exciting original edition of The Tempest showed Rackham experimenting in a simplified dramatic technique that was refreshingly and effectively 'modern'.
As illustrated by Arthur Rackham, the First Edition of The Tempest (1926) included 21 tipped-in color plates and more than 20 monotone images.
Arthur Rackham's illustrations for "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (1928)
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1928) is an illustrated version of Washington Irving's classic early American tale of superstitions and the mysterious disappearance of Ichabod Crane set after the War of Independence in the Dutch settlement of Tarry Town, New York.
Irving's tale, itself, is believed to be based on an earlier German folk-tale that may have been first recorded by Johann Karl August Musäus in his collection of tales entitled Volksmärchen der Deutschen - Musäus' version of the tales dénoument follows:
The headless horseman was often seen here. An old man who did not believe in ghosts told of meeting the headless horseman coming from his trip into the Hollow. The horseman made him climb up behind. They rode over bushes, hills, and swamps. When they reached the bridge, the horseman suddenly turned into a skeleton. He threw the old man into the brook and sprang away over the treetops with a clap of thunder.
Thematically, Irving's tale is similar to other traditional poems involving supernatural wild chases, such as Burns' "Tam O' Shanter" and Bürger's "Der Wilde Jäger".
Rackham's suite of color and monotone illustrations accompanying Irving's tale are a lovely example of his matured style and complement the supernatural themes in a most thoughtful manner.
As illustrated by Arthur Rackham, the First Edition of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1928) included 8 color plates 30 monotone images and illustrated end-papers.
Arthur Rackham's illustrations for "The Night Before Christmas" (1931)
The Night Before Christmas (1931) was a version of the classic poem attributed to Clement Moore, "A Visit from St Nicholas" accompanied by a suite of illustrations from Arthur Rackham.
Moore was a Professor of Oriental and Greek literature at Columbia College - now Columbia University .
Generally credited as author of "A Visit from St Nicholas", a poem published anonymously in 1823, Moore is thus, associated with a poem that has been referred to as "arguably the best-known verses ever written by an American" (Burrows and Wallace, 1898).
Prior to the publication of "A Visit from St Nicholas", conceptions of Santa Claus varied widely throughout the World.
Following that publication, the characteristics of Santa Claus have consolidated, however, with the poem being identified as a significant factor in the creation of a jovial and religion-free old elf concerned with spreading joy to children through the world.
In 1962, William and Ceil Baring-Gould (The Annotated Mother Goose) referred to Rackham's suite for The Night Before Christmas (1931) as being amongst his most "celebrated illustrations" and writing more than 3 decades after the First Edition was published, Dorothy de Goza wrote of the enduring popularity of the Moore's poem and Rackham's accompanying illustrations upon the release for the latest edition for the Christmas of 1967, thus:
Then, for a breath from Santa, we might add the new edition of "The Night Before Christmas". This is illustrated by Arthur Rackham and the pictures are as gay as the lines.
For The Night Before Christmas (1931), Arthur Rackham prepared a suite of illustrations including 4 major color images, 17 monotone designs, End Papers, illustrated Title and Half-Title pages in addition to the design for the illustrated Dust Jacket (which was also used for the cover).
Arthur Rackham's illustrations for "Poe's Tales of Mystery and Imagination" (1935)
For Poe's Tales of Mystery and Imagination (1935), Rackham produced a superb suite of color and monotone illustrations to accompany the collection of tales from the 19th Century American poet and writer, Edgar Allan Poe.
His suite of images included 12 full color illustrations, a color Dust Jacket, monotone End Papers, 17 full-page monotone illustrations, monotone images for the Half-Title and Title pages and a further 14 marginal monotones.
Pollin (1989), in Images of Poe's Work: A Comprehensive Descriptive Catalogue of Illustrations has drawn comparisons between Rackham's suite and that of Harry Clark more than a decade earlier, in addition to Rackham's contribution thus:
Clarke's pictures were drawn upon for the twelve color plates and seventeen line drawings of Arthur Rackham, which suitably start with 'The Imp of the Perverse' ... [they represent] perhaps the last exhibition of true artistry in the illustration of Poe from the entire British school of the current century.
In Rackham's amusing self-critique describing his suite, he commented that the illustrations "were so horrible I was beginning to frighten myself".
Rackham's approach to the selection of classic tales within Poe's Tales of Mystery and Imagination (1935) resulted in a most complementary meeting of illustrator and source material.
His frightening, almost other-worldly imagery is a perfect match for Poe's literary content.
Arthur Rackham's illustrations for "Peer Gynt" (1936)
"Peer Gynt" was originally written by Henrik Ibsen in 1867, when he was nearly forty. Accoring to Ibsen's own comments, it was conceived in the mood of a "Korstog-Jubel" - a "Crusader's Song of Triumph".
The play is first and foremost a poetic fantasy and only incidentally a satire. It is a fantasy woven out of the folklore of Ibsen's Scandinavian heritage and embroidered by his wealth of thought and keen wit. There is philosophy to be found in it, no doubt, but Ibsen did not set out to write a philosophical poem, but a fantasy involving the legendary character of Peer Gynt (reputed to have been an inhabitant of Gudbrandsdal in the 18th Century) who is also mentioned in Asbjörnsen's Norwegian Fairy Tales as having a penchant for fighting and conquering trolls.
On the question of his inspiration, in 1880 Ibsen wrote the following:
To make the matter intelligible I should have to write a whole book, and for that the time has not yet come. Everything that I have written has the closest possible connection with what I have lived through, even if it has not been my own personal experience; in every new poem or play I have aimed at my own spiritual emancipation and purification.
One of the outstanding features of Peer Gynt - the characters of Aase, Peer's mother, and the incident woven around her - was derived from Ibsen's own experiences, for as he wrote in 1870, "This poem contains much that is reminiscent of my own youth; for Aase my mother - with necessary exaggerations - served as model".
In 1876, Ibsen prepared an abridged version of Peer Gynt for presentation at the Christiania theatre, where it was performed with Grieg's incidental music and, in time, it became a feature in the repertories of the major Scandinavian theatres. Foreign language translations followed, German in 1881, English in 1892 and French in 1896.
Arthur Rackham's interpretation of Ibsen's classic work retains all the characteristics of Rackham's illustrative approach, while imbibing the images with a Scandinavian sense that is entirely complementary to Ibsen's play.
The contemporary review in The New York Times Book Review (Vol. 2; 1936) included the following comment:
Henrik Ibsen's "Peer Gynt" has been ... illustrated with many of Arthur Rackham's delightfully impish and imaginative drawings in colour. It is seldom that the work of artist and author is more happily married than in this volume.
Is there a most popular suite of illustrations by Arthur Rackham?
Arthur Rackham's illustration depicting Thor, Hymir and the Midgard Serpent
This extraordinarily powerful illustration by Arthur Rackham was inspired by "The Fishing of Thor" - a classic tale within the Norse Edda or Snorri Sturluson - that tells of an encounter where Thor is thwarted from capturing the Midgard Serpent through the cowardice of the giant Hymir.
It is most closely associated with the following passage:
"The Midgard Serpent snapped at the ox-head, and the hook caught in its jaw; but when the Serpent was aware of this, it dashed away so fiercely that both Thor's fists crashed against the gunwale. Then Thor was angered, and took upon him his divine strength, braced his feet so strongly that he plunged through the ship with both feet, and dashed his feet against the bottom; then he drew the Serpent up to the gunwale. And it may be said that no one has seen very fearful sights who might not see that: but Thor flashed fiery glances at the Serpent, and the Serpent in turn stared up toward him from below and blew venom. Then, it is said, the giant Hymir grew pale, became yellow, and was sore afraid, when he saw the Serpent, and how the sea rushed out and in through the boat. In the very moment when Thor clutched his hammer and raised it on high, then the giant fumbled for his fish-knife and hacked off Thor's line at the gunwale, and the Serpent sank down into the sea. Thor hurled his hammer after it, and men say that he struck off its head against the bottom; but I think it were true to tell thee that the Midgard Serpent yet lives and lies in the encompassing sea. But Thor swung his fist and brought it against Hymir's ear, so that he plunged overboard, and Thor saw the soles of his feet. And Thor waded to land".
"The Twelfth Labor of Hercules" by Arthur Rackham
This powerful illustration from Rackham was inspired by the tale of the 'Twelfth Labor of Hercules' within the "Library" of Apollodorus. As recorded appearing with the translation provided by Sir James G Frazer, the tale is described thus:
A twelfth labor imposed on Hercules was to bring Cerberus from Hades. Now this Cerberus had three heads of dogs, the tail of a dragon, and on his back the heads of all sorts of snakes. When Hercules was about to depart to fetch him, he went to Eumolpus at Eleusis, wishing to be initiated. However it was not then lawful for foreigners to be initiated: since he proposed to be initiated as the adoptive son of Pylius. But not being able to see the mysteries because he had not been cleansed of the slaughter of the centaurs, he was cleansed by Eumolpus and then initiated. And having come to Taenarum in Laconia, where is the mouth of the descent to Hades, he descended through it. But when the souls saw him, the fled, save Meleager and the Gorgon Medusa. And Hercules drew his sword against the Gorgon, as if she were alive, but her learned from Hermes that she was an empty phantom. And being come near to the gates of Hades he found Theseus and Pirithous, him who wooed Persephone in wedlock and was therefore bound fast. And when they beheld Hercules, they stretched out their hands as if they should be raised from the dead by his might. And Theseus, indeed, he took by the hand and raised up, but when he would have brought up Pirithous, the earth quaked and he let go. And he rolled away also the stone of Ascalaphus. And wishing to provide the souls with blood, he slaughtered one of the kine of Hades. But Menoetes, son of Ceuthonymus, who tended the kine, challenged Hercules to wrestle, and being seized round the middle, had his ribs broke; howbeit, he was let off at the request of Persephone. When Hercules asked Pluto for Cerberus, Pluto ordered him to take the animal provided he mastered him without the use of the weapons which he carried. Hercules found him at the gates of Acheron, and cased in his cuirass and covered by the lion's skin, he flung his arms round the head of the brute, and though the dragon in its tail bit him, he never relaxed his grip and pressure till it yielded. So he carried it off and ascended through Troezen. But Demeter turned Ascalaphus into a short-eared owl, and Hercules, after showing Cerberus to Eurystheus, carried him back to Hades.
"The Rescue" by Arthur Rackham
"The Rescue" by Arthur Rackham was published in The Studio (1905) accompanying and critique of Rackham's work by A L Baldry.
The specific commentary by Baldry regarding "The Rescue" follows:
Mere grotesque extravagance does not by any means satisfy him; there is much more in his art than simple twisting of facts into absurdities, or than the travestying of serious things in a broadly humorous manner.
Such an example of it as "The Rescue", is really an intensely dramatic story cast in a definitely comic mould, a drama in which all the actors are playing their parts in deadly earnest, and with the most serious conviction.
The humor of it is grim – not so grim, perhaps, as that which distinguishes that other amazing creation, the Langham sketch, "Alone" – but in the grimness there is a charming hint of tenderness and of sympathy with the weaker things that suffer under nature's inflexible code of laws. In this drawing Mr Rackham appears as a moralist, and as a commentator on the tragedies of existence.