Books
Rare Books

The magical illustration of Arthur Rackham

Self portrait of Arthur Rackham
Self-portrait of Arthur Rackham with an anthropomorphic tree

Arthur Rackham was an illustrator in the late 19th and early 20th century. He was born in London in 1867. He began studying at the Lambeth School of Art at the age of 18, and soon found his passion and calling. The first of Rackham's illustrations to be published in a book were in 1893, in The Dolly Dialogues. Rackham never looked back. From that first publication, illustration was his career until the day he died at age 72, of cancer.

In 1905, when Rackham was 38 years old, he created 51 color pieces to accompany Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle. The technological advancements necessary to produce color-separated printing was new, and Rackham's vibrant, lavish style of sumptuous illustration helped propel the edition to the status of instant classic, while simultaneously bringing attention to Rackham and his work, and making a name for him.

Rackham's pieces were known for their luxurious use of colour and keen attention to detail. His styles ranged easily from vivid, bright splashes of color to more muted, subtle tones. He became a member of the Royal Watercolour Society and mastered the watercolor method of painting, seen in many of his works. Many of the books Rackham illustrated include both his black and white, and color plates. Some, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne's Wonder Book, include Rackham's experimentation with partially coloured prints, similar to the effect seen with Japanese woodblock art.

Much of Rackham's work depicts gnomes, fairies, goblins or other creatures from mythology, folklore or fable. His work has been an inspiration to many, including film director Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) and modern illustrator Brian Froud. Beyond the fantastical natural world, Rackham also found inspiration in unusual places, creating his own artistic interpretations of pieces from music and theatre, such as Wagner's operas, or Shakespeare plays.

Whether illustrating whimsical books for children or darker matter for adults, Rackham's imaginative, brilliant illustration style was highly sought after and enhanced any text it accompanied. Rackham died in 1939, and now, more than 70 years after his death, his work is collectible and beloved. Children and adults alike take pleasure in the unique, beautiful art he provided for some of the world's greatest stories.

Share

Discover more beautiful books

By Sandra Hindman
24 January, 2022
Books of Hours were medieval bestsellers. Sandra Hindman, an expert on medieval manuscripts, explains why these books were, and still are, so important.
8 Min Read
By Julie Oreskovich
27 August, 2021
The New Naturalist Series is an on-going series of books published by Collins that focuses on natural history. The series, famous for its dust jacket designs, began in 1945 with Butterflies by E.B. Ford and more than 100 titles have been published.
2 Min Read
27 August, 2021
Andrew Lang was a Scottish poet, novelist and literary critic, but his enduring legacy is not his prodigious writing. Lang is best remembered for his contribution to folklore and storytelling thanks to his 12-volume 'Fairy Books' collection.
1 Min Read