One of my passions is botanical illustration, which exploded in Victorian times and the flower books that featured in last week’s Darwin blog post, contain some extraordinarily pretty, and colourful examples of these. Many nineteenth and early twentieth century illustrators however, (botanical and otherwise,) exhibit strong, expressive linear work and beautiful muted, or dark colour tones that make their images immensely intriguing.
So here are some of my Victorian favourites:
Arthur Rackham (1867-1939).I share Emma’s love of Arthur Rackham, especially his darkly beautiful, strangely elegant and ethereal fairy tale illustrations, where his style mingles with fantasy and imagination.The illustrations for fairy tales in the Victorian era, are powerfully evocative of the mix of optimism, fantasy and anxiety inherent in childhood. Whether illustrating explicitly for children or not, it is this mix of charm and fear which gives the illustrations their power.
W.Russell Flint (1860-1969).
Here in Darwin we have a 1931 Modern Masters of Etching publication of W.Russell Flint’s etchings which range from the grand architecture of Vienna to intimate portraits of women bathing, seven amazons on a Breton beach, and naked dryads; fairy-like greek mythological wood nymphs.This book has twenty seven etchings and is a handsome collection of large and small scale romanticism.
Heath Robinson (1872-1944).
As well as other older illustrated books, we do have some stellar modern Folio editions. A new Folio title we have just added is Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales Illustrated by Heath Robinson. The term ‘heath robinson’ as a saying for something put together haphazardly, either in an over-complicated or makeshift way, originates from this illustrator who drew lavish designs of crazy contraptions; elaborate complicated machines with no practical use. His illustrations in 1913 for Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales however, are just gorgeous and romantic, and this beautiful Folio edition for just £13.30 features these lovely black and white drawings, and colour prints.
Edmund Duluc (1882-1953).
An early twentieth century illustrator, Dulac’s illustrations for Perrault’s Fairy Tales have the darkness of Arthur Rackham with the soft romanticism of Heath Robinson, and we have this gorgeous Folio edition currently on sale for £17.60.
Eric Gill (1882-1940).
Right next to our shelves of beautiful bound Folios we have a brand new section of signed books and first editions which is proving very popular. Love of a Kind by Felix Dennis, with illustrations by Eric Gill, is hilarious and beautiful at the same time, as it deals with love...and so inevitably, sex too. There are numerous charming as well as bawdy illustrations to complement the lines of poetry.
Richard Doyle (1824-1883).Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s uncle, was known for illustrating adult works for Thackeray and Dickens (he worked for Punch magazine for seven years, producing fantasy illustrations and political cartoons, and we have a huge selection of bound Punch magazines here to choose from.) But it is his fairyland illustrations that actually bewitch me. After illustrating Grimms Tales, The Fairy Ring, he became the fairytale artist of the Victorian era, and his illustration The Fairy Tree from the book “In Fairyland”, is the ultimate fairy illustration in watercolour, with two hundred fairies perched in the branches of a huge tree surrounding the fairy king in the centre.
Charles Altamont Doyle (1832-1893).
My absolute favourite illustrator however, whom I first came across accidentally while sorting through mountains of books, is Charles Altamont Doyle, father of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Richard Doyle’s brother. Charles Doyle suffered from depression and alcoholism, and as a result of drunken and over excitable behaviour was placed in a mental asylum. There, he produced masses of drawings and watercolours, as a protest to being confined and to prove his sanity. They are a very curious mix of fairy and the gently sinister, with word play, visual puns, strange demons, damsels, huge leafy branches and giant birds. All wonderfully strange, a little dark, but beautiful and packed with unusual charm, and here in the Darwin room we have a slim catalogue of his watercolours and drawings from an exhibition held at The Huntington Library, California.
John Bauer (1882-1918).Lastly, my son’s favourite (who loves all things old and Swedish, and lives in Sweden); the deep, dark, incredibly spell-binding, but eerie illustrations of John Bauer, the Swedish painter and illustrator who illustrated early editions of “Bland Tomtar och Troll” an anthology of Swedish folklore and fairytales. If you want the scary side of fairyland, this is it, complete with trolls, dragons, giant wolves and fanged serpents.
No doubt by now, you will be convinced that I am well and truly away with the fairies, having talked about them way too much for the last three weeks. I can only blame this on being confined in the beautiful, other-worldy atmosphere of The Darwin Rare Books Room. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. To be surrounded by ancient stories, magical illustrations, ideas of all sorts, and so many books all with hidden histories of their own, is to enter into a kind of enchantment.
Long may the spell last, I say. So come and be entranced yourself. Whether it is fairies, history, religion or maps, sharp social satire, modern signed fiction or ancient leather bound farming facts, there will be something in our Darwin room that will cast its spell on you.
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