Ronald Balfour’s Rubáiyát


If the work of illustrator Ronald Balfour (1896–1941) isn’t as well-known as it should be it’s probably because his 1920 edition of the Rubáiyát is his sole major work according to a recent feature in Book & Magazine Collector. These illustrations were produced when he was 24 and while the drawing can be uncertain in places, they’re really splendid examples of the post-Beardsley style, owing far more to Aubrey’s flourishes and details than to the usual Arabian exotica found in other Omar Khayyam adaptations. As usual I love the profusion of peacocks and winged figures, and, unlike many rare editions of this period, we’re fortunate that someone has put all the illustrations onto Flickr. Feast your eyes here.


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10 thoughts on “Ronald Balfour’s Rubáiyát”

  1. I am certainly no connoisseur of ‘love’ in anything really, for better or worse. I will say though, that Western odes to love cannot hold a candle to those painted, written, or composed in Asia, hands down.

  2. We should perhaps note that The Song of Solomon and the Rubáiyát are both translations by westerners, with the latter being a very personal adaptation by Edward FitzGerald. Jorge Luis Borges explores this in The Enigma of Edward FitzGerald where he proposes that the Rubáiyát is a kind of collaboration across the centuries.

  3. I recently compiled a Rubáiyát art album (link below) including some of Ronald Balfour’s work, but hadn’t seen all those included in your link, so good to see. I picked up cheap a second hand copy of the edition illustrated by Rene Bull, not long ago. Nice work, not as much of a bargain though as the excellent Edmund J. Sullivan illustrated edition that I got in a charity shop for 30 pence.

  4. I had an edition of Goethe’s Faust with similar illustrations which were faintly Beardsley with overtones of A O Spare, but I’m not sure who they were by.

  5. Yvonne: Yes, blogged about him and have a copy of the book! It’s a masterpiece, I love it. Balfour’s work could also be derived in part from Harry Clarke although it seems more Beardsley-like on the whole. Clarke also owed a debt to Aubrey, of course, although he quickly developed his own style.

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