Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Arthur Rackham

As a child of the 80's I have always been captivated with fantasy, and there is none that so epitomizes the whimsy and mystique of fantasy art as the illustrations of Arthur Rackham, one of England's most celebrated book illustrators.

When one thinks of the Grimm's fairy tales or similar myths and legends, nothing so perfectly illustrates our subconscious imaginings as Rackham's inky depictions of mischievous sprites, warty goblins, and spindly imp-like caricatures set against a warm sepia tone. Do they not simply transport you back to your childhood story time?

Even his lanky school children and scantily clad maidens have a demure grace about them; acceptable even by proper Victorian standards. And Mr. Rackham was definitely a romantic Victorian at heart.

Born one of twelve children in London, 1867, at 18 Rackham began working as a clerk and studying part-time at the Lambeth School of Art. After 7 years he quit his job and began working for the Westminster Budget as a reporter and illustrator. His first book of illustrations were published in 1893, but his first serious commission was in 1894 for the Dolly Dialogues. Book illustrating then became Rackham's career for the rest of his life.

In his early years (1890's) Rackham's illustrations showed competence and technique, but no style. Each image would be as random and unique as the next, as if executed by a different artist. He seldom did fantasy and that he did was very indicative of an artist in search of his own style.

Not until the 1900's did Rackham find himself and create a steady flow of work which fostered his talent and fancy for the magical: Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm (1900), Gulliver's Travels (1900), Rip Van Winkle (1905), Peter Pan (1906), Alice in Wonderland (1907), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1908), Undine (1909), The Rhinegold and the Valkyrie (1910), Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods (1911), and he continued so for many more decades...

So much investment of ourselves there is in fantasy; such potential for attaining our deepest dreams and desires. As Victor Hugo put it, "The soul hath greater need of the ideal than of the real."

"For children in their most impressionable years, there is in fantasy, the highest of stimulating and educational powers."

-Arthur Rackham

"If you want your children to be bright, read them fairy tales. If you want your children to be brilliant, read them more fairy tales."

-Albert Einstein

May we all strive to remain children at heart and slaves to our imaginations.


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