Rackham’s fairytale illustrations


Rackham’s fairytale illustrations

Arthur Rackham was an English book illustrator, best known for pen and ink fantasy illustration combined with watercolour - producing wonderful and imaginative images of gnarled trees, hob goblins and rosy-cheeked maidens.

Arthur Rackham was born in London in 1867, one of 12 children. He started work at 18 as a clerk, but was able to become a full time illustrator within a few years.

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.

Rackham’s work is noted for its robust pen and ink drawings, which were combined with the use of watercolour in subtle shades. His creations leaned more towards the frightening than the twee – a world of scary forests, goblins, dragons and sprites. As well as fairy tales, he illustrated Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and Wagner's The Ring of the Niebelung, amongst others.

Rapid developments in printing technology in the early twentieth century helped to enable Rackham's technique, as illustrators no longer had to rely on an engraver to copy their outlines with variable skill. However, after the First World War, Rackham's style and subject matter fell out of favour.

Arthur Rackham died in 1939. His works have become very popular since his death, both in North America and Britain. His images have been widely used by the greeting card industry and many of his books are still in print or have been recently available in both paperback and hardback editions. Rackham's original drawings and paintings are keenly sought at the major international art auction houses.

Further reading

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