The Knowles’ Norse Fairy Tales

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More tales from the northern lands, and a book illustrated by two people this time. The Knowles were a pair of brothers, Reginald Lionel (1879–1954) and Horace John (1884–1954), who produced several illustrated editions together while also working independently. Sibling illustrators are unusual but not unprecedented; the Knowles’ contemporaries included the Robinson brothers—Charles, William (Heath) and Thomas—who worked together on an edition of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories. Norse Fairy Tales (1910) is a collection of folk stories that overlap in places with the more familiar tales from Denmark and Germany. The book was compiled by FJ Simmons from Norwegian collections by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe which had been translated into English by George Webbe Dasent. Simmons says in his introduction that he edited (or bowdlerised) his selection a little in order to make some of the pieces suitable for a young readership although he doesn’t give any details. His book is one I ought to have gone looking for sooner after I swiped part of a related illustration for a CD design some time ago. A drawing by Reginald Knowles of a troll walking among trees appears in a source book of Art Nouveau graphics which I’ve borrowed from for many years. Reginald’s trees proved to be perfect for the CD. This was a lazy move on my part but I’d been asked to rescue a design which wasn’t working, and the deadline was a tight one.

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Simmons may have trimmed some of the texts but Norse Fairy Tales still runs to 55 stories that fill 500 pages for which the Knowles’ provide full-page illustrations, a few colour plates and many smaller drawings. Each artist is identifiable by their initials. All the black-and-white art is pen-and-ink but Horace’s drawings imitate the style of early wood engravings, a look that works well with the material, while Reginald’s drawings would be identifiable even without his initials since his work tends to be a little more stylised, as with the sinuous trees that I borrowed. This is an impressive book that might be better known if there wasn’t such a profusion of illustrated Brothers Grimm and Hans Andersen collections. Find out what the trolls are getting up to here.

(Note: the Internet Archive scan has excessively browned pages. All the images here have been run through filters to remove the colouration.)

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The Purloined Eidolon

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Dreamland by Frederick Simpson Coburn.

By a route obscure and lonely,
Haunted by ill angels only,
Where an Eidolon, named NIGHT,
On a black throne reigns upright,
I have reached these lands but newly
From an ultimate dim Thule—
From a wild weird clime that lieth, sublime,
Out of SPACE—Out of TIME.

Dreamland by Edgar Allan Poe

There’s always more Poe. Frederick Simpson Coburn was a Canadian artist who illustrated a 10-volume set of Edgar Allan Poe’s complete works in 1902, the collection being edited by Charles F. Richardson, and published in special editions with Poe-esque names such as “Arnheim” and “Eldorado”. Coburn was more of a painter than an illustrator so his full-page pieces tend to be stolidly professional in a manner that doesn’t really suit Poe’s fervid imagination. One exception is his illustration for Dreamland (aka Dream-Land) which would be more impressive if it hadn’t been so heavily “inspired” by a similar picture, The Black Idol or Resistance by František Kupka. Kupka’s picture dates from 1903 so it might seem at first that any suggestion of creative purloining should be dismissed (or even reversed) unless you know that The Black Idol was a slightly reworked version of a similar piece which appeared in a French magazine, Cocorico, in December 1900.

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The suspicion of appropriation is reinforced if you also know that Kupka’s earlier work was one of two Poe-derived pieces published in the same magazine, and was itself an illustration for Dreamland, with the first few lines of the poem in the Mallarmé translation being printed underneath the drawing. Coburn grew up in Quebec and moved to Paris in 1896 to study art; he was still there in 1900. Circumstantial evidence this may be but we don’t need the services of Auguste Dupin to suppose that Coburn might have remembered an illustration from a French magazine when the Poe commission arrived a year or so later.

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I’m not here to cast aspersions, the pressure of deadlines compelled me to swipe a chunk of Gustave Doré when I illustrated Poe myself a few years ago. I enjoy finding minor artistic connections like these, and the links between Coburn and Kupka are obscure enough that they probably haven’t been remarked on very much or even noticed until now. While we’re on the subject of dark eidolons, Dreamland was illustrated by William Heath Robinson in his own Poe edition in 1900. Robinson isn’t as sublimely grandiose as Kupka and Coburn but he also portrays Night as a literal figure. See the rest of his book here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Martin van Maële’s illustrated Poe
Narraciones extraordinarias by Edgar Allan Poe
Fritz Eichenberg’s illustrated Poe
The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope
Hugo Steiner-Prag’s illustrated Poe
Burt Shonberg’s Poe paintings
Illustrating Poe #5: Among the others
Illustrating Poe #4: Wilfried Sätty
Illustrating Poe #3: Harry Clarke
Illustrating Poe #2: William Heath Robinson
Illustrating Poe #1: Aubrey Beardsley
Poe at 200
The Tell-Tale Heart from UPA
William Heath Robinson’s illustrated Poe

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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William Heath Robinson’s Rabelais

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Ending the year with some Heath Robinson illustrations I’d not seen before, probably because their grotesque qualities set them apart from the rest of his whimsical drawings and fairy tale illustrations. Illustrated editions of Rabelais are rare owing to the coarse and scatological nature of the novels. Gustave Doré‘s robust and bloodthirsty character made him a good match for the material but it’s a surprise to find a generally light-hearted illustrator like Heath Robinson tackling the same stories.

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Robinson’s illustrations were for a two-volume set published in 1904 (see here and here), and are suitably dark with plenty of solid blacks and heavy cross-hatching. Some of the drawings are so different to the artist’s usual work they could be taken at first glance for pieces by Sidney Sime or Mervyn Peake. More typical are the numerous vignettes that appear at the ends of chapters. The examples here are from Google scans at the Internet Archive but some of the original drawings may be seen in better quality (and purchased if you have the money) at the Chris Beetles gallery.

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The Talking Thrush and Other Tales of India

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British illustrator William Heath Robinson died in 1944 which means that 2015 will see his own books fall into the public domain in many countries. The books he produced during and after the First World War established his reputation as a creator of impromptu contraptions, to such a degree that the term “Heath Robinson” has the same currency in Britain as “Rube Goldberg” does in the US when describing an improbable mechanical device. Robinson’s whimsical drawings have always been his most popular works but I favour his earlier illustrations, especially his illustrated Poe and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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The Talking Thrush and Other Tales of India by William Crooke and William Henry Denham was first published in 1899; the version linked here is a reprint from 1922. The fin de siècle is evident in the Art Nouveau styling of some of the borders, the kind of detailing that Heath’s brother, Charles Robinson, often deployed. Heath’s later illustrations dropped the decoration to concentrate on human figures, caricature and the positive use of white space.

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