A Year: Day to Day Men: 19th of September

Morning’s Early Light

September 19, 1867 was the birthdate of English book illustrator Arthur Rackham.

Arthur Rackham, at the age of eighteen, worked as a clerk at the Westminster Fire Office and began studying part-time at the Lambeth School of Art in central London. In 1892, he left his job and started working for the Westminster Budget, a national newspaper, as a reporter and illustrator.  His first serious commission were a collection of sketches of Anthony Hope, the English novelist who later wrote “The Prisoner of Zenda”.

By the early 1900s, Arthur Rackham had developed a reputation for pen and ink fantasy illustration with richly illustrated gift books such as the 1898 “The Ingoldsby Legends”, “Gulliver’s Travels”, and “Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm” published in 1900. Although acknowledged as an accomplished black-and-white book illustrator for some years, it was the publication of his full color plates to Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” in 1905 that particularly brought him into public attention.

Arthur Rackham’s reputation was confirmed in 1906 with his illustrations for J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens”. His income from the book illustrations was augmented by the annual exhibitions of his artwork at the Leicester Galleries located in London. Rackham won a gold medal at the 1906 Milan International Exhibition and another at the 1912 Barcelona International Exposition. His work was also included in an exhibition at the Louvre in Paris in 1914.

Arthur Rackham’s work is often described as a fusion of a northern European ‘Nordic’ style strongly influenced by the Japanese woodblock tradition of the early 19th century. He is widely regarded as one of the leading illustrators from the ‘Golden Age’ of British book illustration which roughly encompassed the years from 1890 until the end of the First World War.

During that period, there was a strong market for high quality illustrated books which typically were given as Christmas gifts. Many of Rackham’s books were produced in a de luxe limited edition, often vellum bound and usually signed, as well as a smaller, less ornately bound quarto ‘trade’ edition. This was sometimes followed by a more modestly presented octavo edition in subsequent years for particularly popular books.

Arthur Rackham never lost his sense of wonderment and never gave in to the baser styles that fell in and out of favor over the years. From Queen Victoria’s death in 1901 to the start of World War I, Rackham’s illustrations preserved a lifestyle and a sensibility that kept the frighteningly modern future at bay. His beautiful drawings were the antithesis of the industrial advances that allowed them to be printed at affordable prices.

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