Gustave Doré’s Contes Drolatiques

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I mentioned Gustave Doré in the Émile Bayard post last week so here’s something from the man himself. I’ve known a couple of the pictures in this 614-page volume for a long time but it’s taken me until this week to look through them all. Doré began his career as a creator of humorous illustrations, and his early illustrated books were at the lighter end of the scale. His flair for the comic and the grotesque are combined in this 1855 edition of Balzac’s stories with a total of 425 drawings, some of which feature the artist’s taste for violent death. As always with Doré, his drawings were filled and embellished by a team of engravers but this is still a remarkable amount of work. What you see here is a necessarily small selection of the full-page pictures; the entire book may be browsed at the Internet Archive.

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Walter Crane’s Picture Books

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Beauty and the Beast.

British artist and designer Walter Crane never illustrated a Perrault collection but he did illustrate individual editions of Perrault’s more well-known tales. These illustrations are from collections published in 1911 of the small books of nursery rhymes, alphabets and stories for children that Crane produced in the 1870s. The clear-line drawings are unusual for their avoidance of the decor one usually sees with these stories; Crane admired the work of the Pre-Raphaelites but the settings are a lot less medieval than some of his other books, the architecture and costumes owing more to the Empire style.

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The Frog Prince.

Crane wrote several design books, including a very good one about the history of book design. His drawings for children may be simple but they’re all very precise and often contain significant details; many of the larger compositions draw the eye into the background with views through doors or windows, or into remote vistas. Crane also adapted each story into verse, and even manages to represent an act of metamorphosis in a single picture for the moment when the Frog Prince turns human. Elsewhere some of the pages are almost comic-like in their arrangement of multiple panels and text.

The samples here are taken from three different collections:

Beauty and the Beast / The Frog Prince / The Hind in the Wood
Cinderella / Puss in Boots / Valentine and Orson
The Sleeping Beauty / The Baby’s Own Alphabet / Bluebeard

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The Hind in the Wood.

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Gustave Doré’s Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault

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La Belle au bois dormant (The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood).

More illustrated Perrault. Gustave Doré’s intention to produce definitive illustrations for his editions certainly paid off when he turned his attention to the French fairy tales. Doré’s work may lack the light touch required for some of these stories but a couple of the engravings—Red Riding Hood in bed with the wolf, Puss-in-Boots—are reproduced endlessly whenever picture editors need a suitable illustration. Doré’s characters can be rather wooden at times but the expressions on the face of the wolf and the girl are perfect.

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Le Petit Chaperon rouge (Little Red Riding Hood).

Elsewhere Doré contributes some original details: the court in Sleeping Beauty is usually shown besieged by thorns or bracken but Doré has giant fungi growing all over the floor; in Little Tom Thumb the children are described as knocking on the door of the ogre’s house then being let inside but Doré shows the ogre’s wife greeting them with a shaft of lamplight. These illustrations were published in several editions throughout the 1860s which makes that lamplight beam a very advanced pictorial effect. Incidentally, for those who read the Amon Düül II cover art post a couple of days ago, the figure of Tom Thumb stealing the ogre’s seven-league boots may be glimpsed outside the spacecraft window in the centrespread of Dance of the Lemmings.

Wikimedia Commons has more of the Doré illustrations; there’s also a set at Gallica although the quality of their scans isn’t always so good.

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La Barbe bleue (Blue Beard).

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William Heath Robinson’s Old-Time Stories

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William Heath Robinson’s illustrated edition of Charles Perrault’s fairy tales, published in 1921, is a more substantial collection than the Dulac edition with eleven stories in all. The translator was AE Johnson who notes that three of the tales—Beauty and the Beast, The Friendly Frog, and Princess Rosette—aren’t from Perrault at all, but Beauty and the Beast by this time was part of the general canon.

Robinson’s illustrations in this particular volume are badly damaged in places but they maintain his high standard in their characterisation and use of space. A couple of the pieces are rather alarming in a book for small children: the giant crushing a village while pursuing the fleeing captives in Little Tom Thumb, and Blue Beard (again) threatening his wife with a cutlass. The imperious Puss-in-Boots is particularly good. Browse the rest of the book here or download it here.

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Edmund Dulac’s Sleeping Beauty and Other Fairy Tales

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Edmund Dulac’s illustrated edition of Charles Perrault’s fairy tales was published in 1910, and like John Austen’s version this is another one I hadn’t seen before. The adaptation by Arthur Quiller-Couch drops many of the less familiar stories such as Riquet of the Tuft and The Ridiculous Wishes to leave only Sleeping Beauty, Blue Beard, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast. A century later, three of those stories are now overly familiar thanks to Disney and co. while the wife-murdering antics of Blue Beard render him irredeemable for children’s entertainment.

The most notable thing about Dulac’s typically excellent illustrations is the degree to which he pushes the style and decor to his beloved Middle East. There’s no reason why many of these stories shouldn’t be situated outside Europe when some of them have very distant Middle Eastern origins but this is unusual for Perrault where the tendency is to use settings based on the Europe of the author’s own time. Browse the rest of the book here or download it here.

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