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An Artist Everybody Should Know About: Arthur Rackham

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Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens

Looking for a way to instantly bring yourself back to childhood? How about a dose of Arthur Rackham?

Rackham was an English artist who illustrated books in the late 19th and early 20th century, taking advantage of the market for quality illustrated books at the time. You’ve seen him around. In postcards and calendars, coffee table books and greeting cards, Rackham’s art thrills fantasy lovers and art collectors alike. But why is it that Arthur Rackham, born in 1867, still excites the imagination to this day? Consider his mythological and folkloric inspiration.

Ravens

The Twa Corbies

With fairies, goblins, and elves, along with a masterful sense of movement and Germanic art style, a sense of wonder truly pours from his art. Sometimes his darker, gloomier tones illustrate the more mysterious sides of stories with gnarled, twisted trees or wizened faces.

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Young Beichan

Rackham’s style molded our modern interpretation of the Victorian aesthetic, when children were beginning to be recognized not as little adults but as people who still needed room to grow. Rackham started his work by sketching a drawing outline, putting in details, then going over the lines with India ink. He added color through multiple watercolor washes for translucent colors, although it has been suggested that color was a challenge for him, considering his insistence on subdued tones.

Rackham’s art was the perfect partner of the fanciful children’s books released at the time: Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, The Wind in the Willows, Alice in Wonderland, Hans Christian Andersen’s Tales, Aesop’s Fables and many more. His illustrations for A Midsummer Night’s Dream are considered one of his masterpieces.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream

He also inspired many artists today, including director Guillermo del Toro, who cited Rackham’s art as inspiration for his film Pan’s Labyrinth. These days you can find his art on cards, postcards and calendars or, if you’re lucky, his illustrations in an original edition.

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Text decoration from A Midsummer Night’s Dream

What’s your favorite Arthur Rackham illustration?

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