THE ILLUSTRATORS 2018 : RACKHAM, ARTHUR VPRWS (1867-1939)

Arthur Rackham

Arthur Rackham, VPRWS (1867-1939)


First and foremost among illustrators of the Gift Book, Arthur Rackham had a particular affinity for the northern literary tradition, from Hans read more...
Arthur Rackham
Arthur Rackham, VPRWS (1867-1939)

First and foremost among illustrators of the Gift Book, Arthur Rackham had a particular affinity for the northern literary tradition, from Hans Christian Andersen to Richard Wagner, and developed a perfect visual response in his intensely observed characterisation and atmospheric depiction of setting. The images tend to be remembered as grotesque and spine tingling but, wide-ranging and always apt, their mood is as likely to be humorous or tender.

Arthur Rackham was born in Lewisham on 19 September 1867 and was educated at the City of London School. He visited Australia in 1884 and, on his return, enrolled in evening classes at Lambeth School of Art as he looked for work. Employed as a clerk at the Westminster Fire Insurance Office between 1885 and 1892, he resigned from the post to join the staff of the Pall Mall Budget, later transferring to the Westminster Budget.

Rackham began to illustrate books in 1894, and this activity offered a field in which he could expand his imaginative gifts. He assimilated a wide variety of influences, including the work of E J Sullivan and the Victorian fairy painters, and by the turn of the century had evolved his characteristic style. Working in both black and white and colour, he enhanced the expressive linear quality of his drawing with a perspectival use of a muted range of pigments that could be accurately reproduced by new printing processes. For some 15 years his only serious rival as a fairy story and gift book illustrator was Edmund Dulac. His first publications included, most notably,
The Ingoldsby Legends (1898) and Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare (1899); and with Rip Van Winkle (1905), Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (1906) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1908) his reputation was assured.

Exhibiting widely at home and abroad, including several solo shows at the Leicester Galleries, Rackham won many awards. He was elected an associate member of the Royal Society of Painters in Water-Colours in 1902, a full member in 1908, and Vice-President in 1910. He was also Master of the Art Workers Guild in 1919, and a member of the Langham Sketching Club.

After 1920, Rackham undertook painting in oils and began to show at the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. He visited America in 1927, and in 1931 went to Denmark where he made studies for illustrations to Hans Andersen; these were further used, in 1933, as the basis of his designs for a production of Humperdinck’s
Hansel and Gretel, his first professional theatrical project. These last 20 years were something of an anti-climax, partly due to the decline in the standard of book production. But he continued to produce some excellent illustrations, such as those for Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination (1935) and Peer Gynt (1936). Despite declining health, he completed his last set of designs, for The Wind in the Willows, shortly before his death at Limpsfield, Surrey, on 6 September 1939.

His work is represented in numerous public collections, including the British Museum and the V&A; and the Butler Library (Columbia University in the City of New York), The Cleveland Museum of Art (OH), The New York Public Library and the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center (University of Texas at Austin).

Further reading: James Hamilton,
Arthur Rackham: A Life with Illustration, London: Pavilion Books, 1990; James Hamilton, ‘Rackham, Arthur (b Lewisham, London, 19 Sept 1867; d Limpsfield, Surrey, 6 Sept 1939), in Jane Turner (ed), The Dictionary of Art, London: Macmillan, 1996, Volume 25, pages 835-856; James Hamilton, ‘Rackham, Arthur (1867-1939)’, in H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, Volume 45, pages 718-721; Derek Hudson, Arthur Rackham: His Life and Work, London: Heinemann, 1960
THE FISH KING AND THE DOG FISH: ITS HEAD WAS PATTED GRACIOUSLY by ARTHUR RACKHAM

THE FISH KING AND THE DOG FISH: ITS HEAD WAS PATTED GRACIOUSLY

INITIAL LETTER S, WITH TWO SCAMPERING IMPS by ARTHUR RACKHAM

INITIAL LETTER S, WITH TWO SCAMPERING IMPS

INITIAL LETTER T, WITH IMPS by ARTHUR RACKHAM

INITIAL LETTER T, WITH IMPS

IMP AND CAT by ARTHUR RACKHAM

IMP AND CAT

FISH, BIRD, CHERRIES by ARTHUR RACKHAM

FISH, BIRD, CHERRIES

INITIAL LETTER O, WITH LEAPING IMP by ARTHUR RACKHAM

INITIAL LETTER O, WITH LEAPING IMP

INITIAL LETTER I, WITH SELF PORTRAIT by ARTHUR RACKHAM

INITIAL LETTER I, WITH SELF PORTRAIT

A WAS AN ARCHER, AND SHOT AT A FROG by ARTHUR RACKHAM

A WAS AN ARCHER, AND SHOT AT A FROG

INITIAL LETTER L, WITH A LEANING IMP by ARTHUR RACKHAM

INITIAL LETTER L, WITH A LEANING IMP

INITIAL LETTER G, WITH A MAN CLINGING ON by ARTHUR RACKHAM

INITIAL LETTER G, WITH A MAN CLINGING ON

INITIAL LETTER R, WITH LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD by ARTHUR RACKHAM

INITIAL LETTER R, WITH LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD

INITIAL LETTER H, WITH ROOSTING HEN by ARTHUR RACKHAM

INITIAL LETTER H, WITH ROOSTING HEN

INITIAL LETTER B:
BARBER, BARBER, SHAVE A PIG;
HOW MANY HAIRS WILL MAKE A WIG?
FOUR-AND-TWENTY, THAT'S ENOUGH:
GIVE THE BARBER A PINCH OF SNUFF by ARTHUR RACKHAM

INITIAL LETTER B: BARBER, BARBER, SHAVE A PIG; HOW MANY HAIRS WILL MAKE A WIG? FOUR-AND-TWENTY, THAT'S ENOUGH: GIVE THE BARBER A PINCH OF SNUFF

INITIAL LETTER U:
UPON MY WORD AND HONOUR,
AS I WS GOING TO STONOR,
I MET A PIG,
WITHOUT A WIG,
UPON MY WORD AND HONOUR! by ARTHUR RACKHAM

INITIAL LETTER U: UPON MY WORD AND HONOUR, AS I WS GOING TO STONOR, I MET A PIG, WITHOUT A WIG, UPON MY WORD AND HONOUR!

A MAN STRETCHED HIS MOUTH TO ITS UTMOST EXTENT by ARTHUR RACKHAM

A MAN STRETCHED HIS MOUTH TO ITS UTMOST EXTENT

LONG STORIES OF GHOSTS, WITCHES AND INDIANS by ARTHUR RACKHAM

LONG STORIES OF GHOSTS, WITCHES AND INDIANS

HE WAS A SHORT, SQUARE-BUILT OLD FELLOW by ARTHUR RACKHAM

HE WAS A SHORT, SQUARE-BUILT OLD FELLOW

DIEDRICH KNICKERBOCKER by ARTHUR RACKHAM

DIEDRICH KNICKERBOCKER

VIGNETTE FOR 'LIST OF PLATES' by ARTHUR RACKHAM

VIGNETTE FOR 'LIST OF PLATES'

THE FACE AND THE VOICE OF A CHILD ARE ASSURANCE OF HEAVEN AND ITS PROMISE FOR EVER by ARTHUR RACKHAM

THE FACE AND THE VOICE OF A CHILD ARE ASSURANCE OF HEAVEN AND ITS PROMISE FOR EVER