Franklin Booth’s Flying Islands

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I was rather aggrieved a few weeks ago when I found a copy of James Whitcomb Riley’s The Flying Islands of the Night (1913) at the Internet Archive. Nice to find a free copy of a rare book but the grievance came as a result of an intention to write something about its illustrator, Franklin Booth (1874–1948), and post a picture or two. It turns out that the scanned copy available is complete but all the colour plates have been removed, probably stolen during its career as a library volume. Riley’s story is a piece of light fantasy which might well have been forgotten by now if it wasn’t for Booth’s incredible illustrations; as a result it’s the illustrations that make the book worth seeking out.

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Booth’s penmanship from Franklin Booth: American Illustrator.

Happily, and by coincidence, Mr Door Tree at the essential Golden Age Comic Book Stories has uploaded scans of his own in the past few days. Beautiful stuff and easily the equal of Booth’s contemporaries in Britain such as Charles and William Heath Robinson, Edmund Dulac et al. Booth’s colour work resembles similar watercolour book illustration of the period but his black & white work was quite unique, being done in a pen style derived from his boyhood interest in engraved magazine illustrations. His careful use of hatched lines went on to influence later American illustrators including Roy Krenkel, Mike Kaluta, Berni Wrightson and others. Golden Age Comic Book Stories has an earlier posting featuring one of Booth’s pen drawings here and a page of Mucha-esque women here.

Bud Plant’s Franklin Booth page
Franklin Booth: American Illustrator

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Sidney Sime and Lord Dunsany

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‘We would gallop through Africa’ from A Dreamer’s Tales.

More from the book scans at the Internet Archive. Lord Dunsany was Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany and a writer of a number of fantasy tales beginning with The Gods of Pegana in 1905. His work is notable these days for having been a huge influence on the early stories of HP Lovecraft who once divided his literary output into his Poe pieces and his Dunsany pieces. Dunsany found an ideal illustrator in Sidney Sime who started out as a Beardsley pasticheur but developed his own slightly comical variant on the kind of exotica favoured by Edmund Dulac and Kay Nielsen.

Of the Dunsany/Sime books, Archive.org has The Sword of Welleran (1908), A Dreamer’s Tales (1910), The Book of Wonder (1912) and Tales of Wonder (1916). These stories are frequently too whimsical for my tastes—I’ve never been very keen on Lovecraft’s Dunsany pieces either—but they’re still worth a look for anyone interested in the lighter side of 20th century fantasy.

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‘The City of Never’ from The Book of Wonder.

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HP Lovecraft’s favourite artists

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)

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Masonic fonts and the designer’s dark materials

The art of George Sheringham, 1884–1937

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Baptism of Dylan, Son of the Wave from The Cauldron of Anwn (c. 1902).

About the artist:

George Sheringham was born in London. He studied art first at the Slade School (1899–1901) before leaving for Paris, where he studied from 1904–1906. Chiefly known as a designer of stage sets and decorative artist he was also illustrator of works by Arthur Conan Doyle and Max Beerbohm. He was the author of Drawing in Pen and Pencil (1922) and Design in the Theatre (with James Laver, 1927). An invalid from 1932, he continued to paint flowers until his death.

About the work:

This striking series of paintings were commissioned by the 8th Lord Howard de Walden (Baron Seaford) to illustrate his Celtic poem, The Cauldron of Anwn. It has been suggested that they were part of a decorative sceme for de Walden and it is therefore likely that they were part of his remodelling on the interior of Seaford House in Belgravia which he undertook from 1902 onwards. The modifications at Seaford House included the panelling of the dining room and installation of an onyx staircase and frieze carved from marble imported from South America. No expense was spared and it is said that to ensure a supply of the right kind of marble, Baron Seaford bought the mine.

The series of The Cauldron of Anwyn reflects Sheringham’s interest in oriental ornamentation and also reflects modern approaches to book illustration. A close comparison can be drawn between Sheringham’s work and that of Edmund Dulac and Sheringham’s work is also suggestive of a more exotic continental approach to decoration. Sheringham had studied at the Slade School between 1899 and 1901 and in Paris between 1904 and 1906. The qualities of his work were recognised in Paris before they were in Britain and his first exhibits were at the Paris Salon. He was born and lived in London all his life and became well known as a decorative artist, applying his talents to costume and scenery design for various theatrical productions. He also illustrated many books including The Happy Hypocrite and Design in Theatre and this interest in intricate decoration was transposed into his interior design work.

The Cauldron of Anwyn at ARC.

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