Friday, April 23, 2021

Tempestuous Beauty

A woodland scene with numerous fairies by Rackham from The TempestArthur Rackham is widely known as one of the most important illustrators from the "Golden Age" of British book illustration, which spanned from 1890 until almost 1920. Rackham's work often appeared in children's books, especially his images of fantastical fairies. He usually began his illustrations with a pen or India ink drawing, followed by layers of watercolors that created a subtle and pleasing melding of colors.

A scene from Rackham's The TempestHis popularity began to decline in Great Britain roughly around the same time as the close of the aforementioned Golden Age, and Rackham decided to capitalize on his growing fame in the United States. To that end, he created a gorgeous series of both line drawings and ink-and-watercolor images for a special limited edition of what is generally accepted to be Shakespeare's play, The Tempest. Although ostensibly for an adult audience and made to represent the work of a Western literary icon, Rackham's unique style is so quickly identifiable that it's hard to think about the Shakespearean characters he represents; instead, we find ourselves envisioning his previous illustrations and not Prospero or Caliban.

There were only 520 copies of this book made for sale: numbers 1-260 were sold in England and the rest in the US. Rauner Library is fortunate to have number 299. To see our copy, ask for Illus R115sh.