Arthur Rackham

Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) was Golden Age illustrator known atmospheric works with muted watercolours which often included mythical creatures in menacing scenes with gnarling trees and twisted undergrowth. He was popular in the UK, US and Australia and influenced some of Australia’s children’s illustrators such as Ida Rentoul Outhwaite, Harold Gaze and Pixie O’Harris. (pp13, 63, 168, Holden)

Rackham’s career started at the Westminster Budget newspaper. The first book he illustrated his was in 1893, Into the Otherside by Thomas Rhodes. Much like his newspaper work, the illustrations were similar to other Victorian artists. His work becomes more playful and expressive in evident in The Zankywank and the Bletherwitchby SJ Adair Fitzgerald, 1896. In 1898 colour plates appear in Rackham’s book The Ingelsby Legends (Lot 439).  

Advances in printing are utilised in Rackham’s published illustrations using a process called chromolithography. Lithography is a, “… printing process based on the fact that grease and water don’t mix. The image is applied to a grained surface (traditionally stone but now usually aluminium) using a greasy medium…”(Tate).  The MET representation of the process well.

Chromolithography replaced the demanding process of hand-colouring plates by printing with multiple stones and colour ink, printed in layers. “Had chromolithography remained the expensive, labour-intensive process it was in its earliest years, it is unlikely that it would have had much impact on book illustration.” States Mitchell from the Private Library blog.

In 1905, Rackham takes on a big project with 50 colour plates illustrating Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving. His style making an impact on readers. He was busy in 1910, illustrating Rhinegold + Valkaries (Lot 145) by Richard Wagner and Sigfred Twilight and the Gods (Lot 440) a Nordic myth. The illustrations took on a less humorous and more epic feel.

Over the next 15 years he produces a number of children’s books but after World War One there is a  decline in the deluxe book market. Rackham continues to produce work up until his death. His last book Wind and the Willows by Kenneth Graham was published after his death.

See Arthur Rackham in our latest catalogue.

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