Arthur Rackham: Witches, Goblins, Fairies, and Cats

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Arthur Rackham   (1884-1939) has been one of my favorite illustrators since I first saw his work at age 16.  He was British, and illustrated many of my favorite classic children’s books. My brother  managed to collect several of his original publications, and I was smitten when I first saw his copies of Peter Pan and Undine.

From Peter Pan : The Fairies have their tiffs with the birds.

From Peter Pan : The Fairies have their tiffs with the birds.

Undine

Undine

From Wikipedia:
Arthur Rackham is widely regarded as one of the leading illustrators from the ‘Golden Age’ of British book illustration which encompassed the years from 1900 until the start of the First World War. During that period, there was a strong market for high quality illustrated books that typically were given as Christmas gifts. Many of Rackham’s books were produced in a de luxe limited edition, often vellum bound and sometimes signed, as well as a larger, less ornately boundquarto ‘trade’ edition. This was often followed by a more modestly presented octavo edition in subsequent years for particularly popular books. The onset of the war in 1914 curtailed the market for such quality books, and the public’s taste for fantasy and fairies also declined in the 1920s.

Arthur Rackham self-portrait

Arthur Rackham self-portrait

In the ’70’s there was a resurgence of interest in his work in the USA, and I remember buying a lot of greeting cards and posters at the KU bookstore. Eventually, I bought all the newer reprints of his books that I could find. I don’t own any of those collector’s editions that are now worth hundreds and thousands of dollars.

79524_4_Rackham-531x700Being the season that it is, I picked a few of his witch  and goblin drawings to show you.

79524_3_Rackham-549x700I sure do love the way he draws trees. Just amazing. And take a look at this cat:

There was an old woman lived under a hill.  (Isn't that a great cat?)

There was an old woman lived under a hill.

It’s interesting to note here that while one illustrator might be the most famous for a particular classic, others frequently deserve more recognition than they  get. For example, here is an example of the classic John Tenniel illustration from Alice in Wonderland:
2AWRD00ZI wouldn’t dream of saying Tenniel isn’t good, but I like Rackham’s better:

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He did so many books, it’s hard to pick a favorite. Of course, I don’t even own recent publications of most of them. But  I enjoy my copy of Once Upon a Time best, because it has Rip Van Winkle, seven of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Three Tales from Shakespeare (Charles and Mary Lamb), A Christmas Carol, Aesop’s Fables, and Alice all in one volume.

from Midsummer Night's Dream

from Midsummer Night’s Dream

Here are a couple more witches. I think I love Arthur Rackham’s fairy tale illustrations so much because I believe they are as close as you can get to what those fairy tale creatures ought to look like. They look both realistic and fantastic at the same time.

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from Hansel and Gretel

from Hansel and Gretel

There are a few other good illustrators of fairy tales out there, but the ones that know what they are doing always say they were influenced  by Rackham.

Here’s one more of my favorites. This one is from Mother Goose, and he put himself in the picture.  Can you recognize which nursery rhyme it is?
going_to_st_ives    As I was going to St. Ives,
I met a man with seven wives,
Each wife had seven sacks,
Each sack had seven cats,
Each cat had seven kits:
Kits, cats, sacks, and wives,
How many were there going to St. Ives?

If you’re willing to spend $3,000- $4,000 you can even own one of his original books! There are still Rackham originals available if you go to the right gallery. But f you want to see more Rackham online, I’d advise you to go on Pinterest and look him up. He has a huge following even after all these years!

Jeanne

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4 responses to “Arthur Rackham: Witches, Goblins, Fairies, and Cats

  1. Ohboyohboyohboy, Arthur Rackham! One of my all time favorites!!! Great post!

  2. I love the whimsy of the art because it doesn’t look like fantasia. It appears to be just a step above, a bit in between, and to my mind ‘dreamy’ which makes it easily acceptable and accessible.

  3. Wow!!
    Thanks for sharing! These drawings are so refined and detailed!!
    I wonder if there’s anyone like him!

  4. Yes, yes, yes,.. my favourite illustrator since I was a little girl… one of my most treasured books is Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler illustrated by Arthur Rackham… not a fairy in sight alas, but exquisite paintings and drawings nonetheless…

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