William Heath Robinson’s illustrated Poe

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Another gem from the Internet Archive collection of scans from North American libraries. This edition of the poems of Edgar Allan Poe from 1900 was illustrated by William Heath Robinson (1872–1944), an artist whose later cartoons of quirky inventions have completely overshadowed his earlier books and the work of his equally talented older brother, Charles. I’m probably in the minority in preferring his book illustration to his cartoons and this edition of Poe is a superb example of his mastery of line and space. It can’t compete with Harry Clarke’s Poe, of course, but then no one can compete with that. WHR wasn’t really suited to the darker side of literature but he acquits himself here far better than Arthur Rackham did when he attempted his own Poe collection in 1935.

Bud Plant’s W Heath Robinson page
W Heath Robinson’s fairy tale illustrations

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The Conqueror Worm.

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Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

The Age of Enchantment: Beardsley, Dulac and their Contemporaries

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“Everything about her was white.” Illustration by Edmund Dulac for
The Dreamer of Dreams by Queen Marie of Roumania (1915).

A major exhibition of British fantasy illustration opens at the Dulwich Picture Gallery this Wednesday, running to February 17th, 2008. Considering the huge resurgence of popularity in fantasy for children I’m surprised none of the UK galleries have done this before now. The Dulwich organisers have chosen a suitably wintry picture by the wonderful Edmund Dulac to promote the exhibition which—intentionally or not—happens to look like a precursor of the poster art for The Golden Compass.

With the death of Aubrey Beardsley in 1898, the world of the illustrated book underwent a dramatic change. Gone were the degenerate images of scandal and deviance. The age of decadence was softened to delight rather than to shock. Whimsy and a pastel toned world of childish delights and an innocent exoticism unfolded in the pages of familiar fables, classic tales and those children’s stories like The Arabian Nights and Hans Andersens’ Stories. These were published with lavish colour plates and fine bindings: these were the coffee table books of a new age.

As a result a new generation of illustrators emerged. This new group of artists was intent upon borrowing from the past, especially the fantasies of the rococo, the rich decorative elements of the Orient, the Near East, and fairy worlds of the Victorians. The masters of this new art form were artists like Edmund Dulac and Kay Nielson, whose inventive book productions, with those of Arthur Rackham, became legendary. Disciples gathered, like Jessie King and Annie French, the Scottish masters of the ethereal and the poetic, the Detmold Brothers, masters of natural fantasy, as well as those who remained in Beardsley’s shadow: the warped yet fascinating works of Sidney Sime, a joyously eccentric coal-miner turned artist, Laurence Housman, master of the fairy tale, the precious inventions from the classics by Charles Ricketts, the Irish fantasies of Harry Clarke, himself a master of stained glass as well as the gift book, and the rich and exotic world of Alaistair. Children’s stories were transformed by the imaginations of a group still bowing to the Victorians Walter Crane, Randolph Caldecott and Kate Greenaway and the fairies of Richard Doyle but these were now given a more colourful intensity by Charles Robinson, Patten Wilson, Anning Bell, Bernard Sleigh and Maxwell Armfield.

The exhibition of British fantasy illustration will be the first such exhibition in Britain and the first worldwide for over 20 years (the last being in New York in 1979). All works, of which over 100 are planned, will come largely from British museums and private collections, many of these will never have been seen publicly before in Britain.

The exhibition is curated by Rodney Engen.

AS Byatt reviewed the exhibition for The Guardian and also looked at the sinister perversity underlying many of the Edwardian fairy tales.

Edmund Dulac at Art Passions

Books by Queen Marie of Roumania:
The Dreamer of Dreams (1915; illus: Edmund Dulac)
The Stealers of Light (1916; illus: Edmund Dulac)
Vom Wunder der Tränen (1938; illus: Sulamith Wülfing)

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Masonic fonts and the designer’s dark materials

The art of John Bauer, 1882–1918

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A Young Prince Went Riding out in the Moonlight.

A Swedish artist whose fairytale illustrations were an influence upon later book illustrators from Arthur Rackham to Brian Froud. More pictures here and yet more at Art Passions.

Bud Plant’s John Bauer page
The John Bauer Museum

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Dragon.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Fantastic art from Pan Books

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Fantastic Art (1973).
Cover: Earth by Arcimboldo.

I’d thought of writing something about this book series even before I started this weblog since there’s very little information to be found about it online. I can’t compete with the serious Penguin-heads, and I’m not much of a dedicated book collector anyway, but I do have a decent collection of the art books that Pan/Ballantine published in the UK throughout the 1970s. These were published simultaneously by Ballantine/Peacock Press in the US and nearly all were edited by David Larkin, with Betty Ballantine overseeing the American editions. Two of the series, the Dalí and Magritte, were among the first art books I owned. Over the years I’ve gradually accumulated most of the set, and I always look for their distinctive white spines in secondhand shops.

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