Ida Rentoul Outhwaite (1888-1960)
The originality of Ida Rentoul Outhwaite lies in the way that she grafted elements of the Australian outback onto the English fairy tradition to create a personal mythology that is at once national and personal.
Ida Rentoul Outhwaite was born in Melbourne on 9 June 1888 and was educated at the city’s Presbyterian Ladies’ College. Working closely with her sister Annie – who provided the texts – Outhwaite contributed many illustrated fairy stories to The New Idea (from 1903) and so established her particular originality.
The project was refined by the sisters’ first book, Mollie and the Bunyip (1904) and expanded by the first of their famous songbooks; Australian Songs for Young and Old (with music by Georgette Peterson) was launched at the Women’s Exhibition, Melbourne in October 1907. In the December of the same year, the Rentoul sisters produced a pantomime book, The Story of the Pantomime Humpty Dumpty, to accompany a production at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne for which Outhwaite designed the costumes. Printed in chromolithographic colour, its illustrations – inspired by Crane – indicated a greater versatility and a particular feel for comedy. The many strands of Outhwaite’s early work were brought together in the first Australian edition of her sister’s version of Peter Pan (1908).
The second phase of Outhwaite’s career, in the period succeeding her marriage, was launched by an exhibition at the Fine Art Society, Melbourne in September 1916. This coincided with the publication of Elves and Fairies, which made much of the ability of new printing processes to reproduce the subtleties of watercolour. Further shows followed and on her first trip to England in 1920, Outhwaite exhibited at the Fine Art Society, London; her success led to a series of five colour-plate books by A & C Black. In the later of these books, such as Blossom (1928), fairies are displaced from their central position by animals, a change which reflected wider shifts in fashion. Nevertheless, this did not prove popular with Outhwaite’s public.
Marcie Muir and Robert Holden, The Fairy World of Ida Rentoul Outhwaite, Sydney: Craftsman House, 1985