Elihu Vedder’s Rubáiyát

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A slight return to Omar Khayyam. The Edmund J. Sullivan post prompted comments about other editions so I thought I’d see what else was at the Internet Archive. The problem there is that the Rubáiyát was a very popular book in the latter part of the 19th century which means there are not only multiple editions of the Edward Fitzgerald translation but many translations by other hands, as well as numerous parodies. Anne S mentioned the Edmund Dulac edition which I suppose I ought to at least acknowledge since Dulac’s passion for Persian and Arabian art made him an ideal illustrator. But I do enjoy finding illustrated books that are less familiar, hence Elihu Vedder’s edition of 1894.

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Elihu Vedder (1836–1923) was an American Symbolist painter, and also something of a poet himself, producing a few volumes of his own illustrated verse. Many illustrators favour an Orientalist interpretation of the Rubáiyát despite the popularity of the quatrains being more a result of their universality than their exotic qualities. Vedder produced over 50 drawings that concentrate on the mystical aspects of the poem, setting hand-lettered texts against illustrations that are either very similar to his paintings or direct copies of some of his canvases. It’s unfortunate that the reproductions in this edition—a reprinting of Vedder’s 1884 original—aren’t better. The book is still one of the more remarkable editions, however. Browse the rest of it here or download it here.

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Abysmal creatures

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Bezdna (Abyss).

A couple of film posters from a time when poster artists weren’t prevented from treating their subject in a symbolic manner. Both these designs are the work of one M. Kalmanson (and I’m assuming here that the scant information is accurate), and both are for Russian films produced in 1917. Beautiful Century alerted me to the work above which Japonisme had spotted a couple of years ago when gathering the more familiar images of women menaced by those pesky cephalopods. Searching around produced the poster below which confirms that the artist had tentacles on the brain that year, creating a picture that looks like a collaboration between Edmund Dulac and HG Wells. There’s little information anywhere about the films themselves but that’s not too surprising when so much of the silent era has been lost forever. As with The Isle of Lost Ships, it’s a good bet that the cinematic reality was a lot less interesting than the promise of the poster design.

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Poison of the Big City. (Maybe… I can’t find this title confirmed in separate sources.)

Previously on { feuilleton }
Fascinating tentacula
Jewelled butterflies and cephalopods
The art of Rune Olsen
Octopulps
The art of NoBeast
Coming soon: Sea Monsters and Cannibals!

Thomas Mackenzie’s Aladdin

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The tip for this one came via Beautiful Century. Thomas Mackenzie (1887–1944) was a minor British illustrator whose work I hadn’t seen before, and if I’d seen the picture above uncredited I might have taken it for something by Kay Nielsen or Edmund Dulac. Mackenzie’s colour plates for the 1919 edition of Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp in Rhyme by Arthur Ransome are very similar to his more famous contemporaries, while the black-and-white pieces owe a considerable debt to Aubrey Beardsley, especially the title page below. Not all the drawing is as assured as one might hope but the book as a whole is still worth a look.

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The Snow Queen

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Edmund Dulac.

Empty, vast, and cold were the halls of the Snow Queen. The flickering flame of the northern lights could be plainly seen, whether they rose high or low in the heavens, from every part of the castle. In the midst of its empty, endless hall of snow was a frozen lake, broken on its surface into a thousand forms; each piece resembled another, from being in itself perfect as a work of art, and in the centre of this lake sat the Snow Queen, when she was at home. She called the lake “The Mirror of Reason,” and said that it was the best, and indeed the only one in the world.

Here in Britain it may not be quite as cold as it was earlier in the month but the Snow Queen still has us in her thrall. Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale was published in 1845 and, like many of the writer’s stories, is a blend of the beguiling and irritating: beguiling for the traces of older folk tales in its trolls, their magic mirror, and the Snow Queen as an embodiment of the season; irritating for the Christian gloss which is layered over everything like a sugar-coating. In this respect it’s a lot like Christmas; religiose sentimentality papered over winter rituals that are older and darker than the celebrations we’re supposed to acknowledge.

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Edmund Dulac.

Andersen’s story has been illustrated and filmed many times with varying success. The Internet Archive has several illustrated editions, the selections here being from two of the better ones. Edmund Dulac’s Stories from Hans Andersen (1911) is one of the shorter collections and features predominantly colour pictures while Dugald Stewart Walker’s Fairy Tales from Hans Christian Andersen (1914) is one of the most heavily illustrated as well as having finer renderings of many stories. But not of the Snow Queen in her palace, Dulac beats everyone there.

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Dugald Stewart Walker.

This description stood out from the second part of Andersen’s tale:

In winter all this pleasure came to an end, for the windows were sometimes quite frozen over. But then they would warm copper pennies on the stove, and hold the warm pennies against the frozen pane; there would be very soon a little round hole through which they could peep…

My sister and I had been reminiscing recently about growing up in the 1960s when central heating and double-glazing were a lot less common than they are today. This meant little or no heating in bedrooms, so very cold weather often meant the same frozen windows which Andersen describes. People in rural places will be familiar with this but it’s something I haven’t seen for years. When you’re a child it’s quite an excitement waking up to find that Jack Frost has paid a visit but these days I prefer a warm house.

As usual I’ll be away for a few days so the archive feature will be activated to summon posts from the past. Have a good one. And Gruß vom Krampus!

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Dugald Stewart Walker.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Dugald Stewart Walker revisited
More Arabian Nights
The art of Dugald Stewart Walker, 1883–1937

Illustrating Poe #2: William Heath Robinson

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The Raven.

Some of these drawings have been featured here before but they’re always worth seeing again. One of the problems for the early illustrators of Poe was a lack of sympathy among many of them for the author’s doom-laden Romanticism. It’s a shame that Aubrey Beardsley didn’t try illustrating some of the poems, as William Heath Robinson does here, Poe’s verse is significantly lighter in atmosphere than his stories.

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Ulalume.

This collection is from 1900 and I much prefer this style of Robinson’s to the later comic inventions which made him a household name. The complete book can be found at the Internet Archive. For a very different interpretation of Poe’s poems, Golden Age Comic Book Stories just posted the 1912 Edmund Dulac edition.

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Lenore.

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