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  • Amanda Bergloff

The Golden Age of Illustration: The Art of Arthur Rackham

Updated: Nov 10, 2022

The Golden Age of Illustration is a term applied to a time period (1880s - 1920s) of unprecedented excellence in book and magazine illustrations by artists in Europe and America. Advances in technology at the time allowed for accurate and inexpensive reproductions of their art, which allowed quality books to be available to the voracious public demand for new graphic art.

Today, The Fairy Tale Magazine is shining a spotlight on one of our favorite artists from this time period, Arthur Rackham, whose art was influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, Art Nouveau, and the Pre-Raphaelite and Post Impressionist artists of their time. In turn, Rackham went on to influence many modern illustrators as well.

Learn a bit more about this artist below:

Arthur Rackham (September 18, 1867 - September 6, 1939) is widely regarded as one of the leading illustrators from the Golden Age of British book illustration. His work is seen as a fusion of a northern European Nordic style with the Japanese woodblock tradition of the early 19th century. His background in journalistic illustration, combined with a subtle use of watercolor created a unique look that was able to be mass produced in high quality illustrated books due to technological developments in photographic reproduction.

Born in London in 1867, Rackham was one of twelve children. He loved drawing from a young age and knew he wanted to be an artist. While he worked at the Westminster Fire Office as an insurance clerk during the day, he was also enrolled in evening courses at the Lambeth School of Art in 1884. He spent seven years studying art while working full-time until he became a staff artist at the Westminster Budget in1892. A year later, his first published book illustrations were featured in To the Other Side by Thomas Rhodes.

In 1894, Rackham's first serious commission was published in The Dolly Dialogues, the collected sketches of Anthony Hope. With the success of this book, other commissions followed, and his art was in enough demand that he was able to quit his job with the Westminster Budget and concentrate on illustrating full time. By the time Rackham turned thirty, he had illustrated nine books, including, Tales from Shakespeare (1899.)

After meeting his future wife, painter Edyth Starkie, in 1900, Rackham was encouraged to follow his interests in drawing worlds of fantasy and fairy tale magic. He illustrated The Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm that same year which proved to be such an overwhelming success, that it was reprinted twice.

Rackham's approach to illustrating started with carefully drawing his subject in pencil, then inking over it in India ink. For color, he used transparent watercolor paint, and laid down wash upon delicate wash which gave his illustrations an ethereal quality well-suited to the fairy tale/fantasy subject matter that he loved.

Rackham's reputation for pen and ink fantasy illustration led to him illustrating many beautiful gift books like Gulliver's Travels in1900. In a survey of British Book Illustration of the time, author John Salaman wrote, "Mr. Rackham stands apart from all the other illustrators of the day; his genius is so thoroughly original. Scores of others have depicted fairyland and wonderland, but who else has given us so absolutely individual and persuasively suggestive a vision of their marvels and allurements? Whose elves are so elfish, whose witches and gnomes are so convincingly of their kind, as Mr. Rackham's?"

Other notable works of Rackham's include his illustrations for Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie, A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, The Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault, The Valkyrie by Richard Wagner, and many more.

Rackham's art defined how fairy tales looked inside my mind, and his work still resonates with fairy tale enthusiasts all over the world.

Enjoy some of Rackham's wonderful & inspiring art:

From Little Red Riding Hood, 1909

From The Sleeping Beauty, 1920

"Lancelot Slays the Dragon" From Tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, 1915

"Hynd Horn" From Some British Ballads, 1919

Allerleirauh, 1914

From Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens,1906

"Guleech" From The Allie's Fairy Book,1916

"The Lady & The Lion" From Grimm's Fairy Tales,1909

"The Welsh Giant" From The Allie's Fairy Book,1916

"Who Won the Caucas Race" From Alice's Adventures in Wonderland,1907

"The Maiden & Winter" From The Allie's Fairy Book,1916

"The Haunted Wood' From Arthur Rackham's Book of Pictures, 1913

"The Three Bears" From English Fairy Tales, 1918

Frontispiece of English Fairy Tales, 918

"Titania Asleep" From A Midsummer Night's Dream, 1908

"The Meeting of Oberon & Titania" From A Midsummer Night's Dream, 1908

And if you'd like to see an image gallery of

Arthur Rackham's illustrations for

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland,

you can view it free HERE

Enchanted Conversation's contributing editor, Amanda Bergloff, writes modern fairy tales and speculative fiction. Her work has appeared in various anthologies, including Frozen Fairy Tales, After the Happily Ever After, and Uncommon Pet Tales. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaBergloff Join her every Tuesday on Twitter for #FairyTaleTuesday to share what you love about fairy tales, folktales, and myths. Also, if you like sharing your #vss fairy tales on Twitter, follow @fairytaleflash and use #FairyTaleFlash so we can retweet! Cover: Amanda Bergloff


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