With Rip Van Winkle (1905), Rackham published his first deluxe limited edition. It was a roaring success: all 250 copies (each numbered and signed by Rackham) were subscribed by the time his show of the original illustrations at Leicester Galleries closed. Commercial success was matched by glowing reviews. As the Daily Mail stated on March 14, 1905:
It does not need the voice of a prophet to predict for the publication of this new 'Rip van Winkle' in book form an almost unprecedented success, for here we have an illustrator who combines the most accomplished craftsmanship with an absolutely unique power of quaint invention, which, moreover, is equally strong in its appeal to child and adult. He has created a whole world of quaint, grotesque, and even gruesome witches, gnomes, and goblins, the horror of whose appearance is, however, counteracted by an irresistible vein of humour. Of his technical accomplishments it would indeed be difficult to speak in exaggerated terms of praise. With all their wealth of minute and intricate detail, there is never a line in these drawings that is not perfect in its certainty and purity, or is not exactly in its right place.
Certainly the illustration, "These fairy mountains," printed in Rip Van Winkle portrays the alternate world of faerie, and although the picture does not perfectly match its textual description, it does evoke the uncanny atmosphere of Rip Van Winkle's experience. In doing so, Rackham subtly changes the emphasis of the tale and influences the reader's interpretation in a way that mere decorative illustration could not.
His next deluxe edition, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens
(1906), was a watershed event for Rackham. Based on J. M. Barrie's The Little White Bird
(1902), the book focuses on the figure of Peter Pan, a baby who lives in Kensington Gardens with the fairies. The deluxe and trade editions of the book both contained a color frontispiece and forty-nine color plates as well as endpapers with a map of Kensington Gardens . This publication became "the outstanding Christmas
gift-book of 1906."1
One of Peter Pan in Kensington Garden's
most intriguing illustrations shows an unsuspecting King Edward, oblivious to the myriad of fairy life and tree-spirits watching him from inside the garden railings. Another classic illustration appears with the figure of Maimie and the chrysanthemum. It beautifully exemplifies the Victorians' contradictory view of childhood, with the beauty and innocence of Maimie's china-doll face contrasted with the image of gnarled yet intriguing fancy that appears in the anthropomorphized flower and Rackham's self-caricatured pointy nose and glasses. Rackham also includes one of his earlier self-portraits in "When he heard Peter's voice he popped in alarm behind a tulip," perhaps reminding readers of the inescapable tension between childhood and adulthood - and of his own position straddling the two worlds.
Barrie loved the book, writing to Rackham about his favorite pictures, which included the Serpentine, Peter in his night-gown sitting in a tree, the fairies going to the ball, and the fairies sewing the leaves.2 The critics were also delighted. The Pall Mall Gazette
commented, "Mr. Rackham seems to have dropped out of some cloud in Mr. Barrie's fairyland, sent by a special providence to make pictures in tune to his whimsical genius."3 Indeed, Rackham's illustrations are surely what led to the success of the book; the story is significantly different from Barrie's popular play of 1904, and as Rackham's nephew Walter Starkie commented, "Although we children went again and again to the theatre to see the play, it was through the Rackham illustrations of Kensington Gardens and the Serpentine that Peter Pan still lived in our memories."4
The deluxe edition of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens was released concurrently with the British and American trade editions. It was reprinted multiple times in the following years in both trade and deluxe editions and with varying selections of the original fifty color illustrations. In 1912, probably capitalizing on the success of Barrie's revised version of the story, Peter and Wendy (1911), Rackham's The Peter Pan Portfolio was published in a limited edition of five hundred copies, numbered and signed by Rackham. It contained twelve large proof-size color plates in mats that were suitable for framing.5 Although Rackham was not pleased with the portfolio, particularly in terms of the quality of the reproductions, the project was a commercial success and has become one of the most collectible of Rackham's works. This portfolio is alleged to have inspired Claude Debussy to write a new piece of music for "The fairies are exquisite dancers," because his daughter, Chouchou, had one of the plates hanging above her bed.6
Rackham's next major publication, Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, was both the most controversial and the most commercially successful of his career.7 In 1907 the copyright on the book expired and Rackham accepted his publisher's invitation to take on the challenge of reillustrating Alice. The resulting deluxe edition was limited to 1130 numbered copies, unsigned by Rackham, containing thirteen color plates mounted on heavy paper with lettered tissue-guards and fourteen black-and-white drawings. The trade edition contained the same illustrations, but the color plates were unmounted.
was a book Rackham had loved as a child, and Sir John Tenniel's illustrations were firmly entrenched in the imagination of the general public. Rackham partially emulated Tenniel in such illustrations as "The Mad Tea-Party" by including the price tag on the Mad Hatter's hat, and "At this the whole pack rose up into the air," where Alice fends off the flying cards. Rackham also elaborated on Tenniel's work in such details as the Caterpillar's face. On other occasions Rackham provided entirely new illustrations for scenes that Tenniel had chosen not to illustrate. Most important, however, Rackham created an Alice substantially different from Tenniel's: Rackham's Alice seems not only older but also gentler than the cranky and petulant child in Tenniel's illustrations.
The critics were divided. The Times criticized Rackham's humor as "forced and derivative" and felt the illustrations showed "few signs of true imaginative instinct." 8 The Daily Telegraph, however, praised Rackham's "inexhaustible imagination" and commented that his illustrations "added a really wonderful wealth of uncanny, dreamlike mystery to the story" (November 27, 1907).
The illustrations for A Midsummer Night's Dream
(1908) were far less controversial, and the book was very successful. William de Morgan wrote to Rackham and described the illustrations for the book as "the most splendid illustrated work of the century, so far."
9 Gordon Ray has noted that "[Rackham's] designs for A Midsummer Night's Dream
of 1908 became the standard by which subsequent illustrations of Shakespeare's play have been judged."
Certainly this book provides examples of nearly all of Rackham's many strengths: his exquisite use of line, his incredible attention to detail, his excellent command of landscape, and his marriage of the worlds of reality and fantasy. Like Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens,A Midsummer Night's Dream
had a future impact on Rackham's career. In 1929, Rackham was commissioned by the New York Public Library to do a series of special watercolors of A Midsummer Night's Dream
for the Spencer Collection. These paintings, which were different from those in the 1908 edition of the book, were exhibited at the library and then bound into a manuscript book with a commentary by Graily Hewitt. This seminal work also influenced the director Max Reinhardt, who noted the influence of Rackham's illustrations on his 1933 English and American productions of the play.
The real beauties of the second decade of the twentieth century were Rackham's illustrations for Aesop's Fables
(1912) and Mother Goose
(1913). Released as deluxe editions, both books had large print runs and were financially successful.
12 In Aesop's Fables,
Rackham clearly was aiming for amusement. His illustrations for "The Moon and her Mother" and "The Gnat and the Lion" show his imaginative refinement. The book also includes numerous self-caricatures: in addition to appearing as the slave-owner in "The Blackamoor," Rackham appears as the scold in "The Boy Bathing," the man in "The Flea and the Man," and the cat with glasses and a top hat in "The Cat and the Birds."
With Mother Goose,
Rackham began to develop his silhouette style of illustration. Silhouettes appear not only throughout the table of contents but also periodically in his illustrations, where at times they are used as background contrast, as in the silhouetted king's horses and men in "Humpty Dumpty." Although the trade edition of Mother Goose
differed significantly from its deluxe counterpart in that it contained only twelve color plates and sixty-seven black-and-white drawings (in contrast to the thirteen color plates and eighty-five black-and-white drawings of the deluxe edition), the American trade edition had a unique title page. The title page looked like a sampler and was not included in the English edition; this version also contained many more nursery rhymes.
13 Many of the illustrations for Mother Goose
originally appeared in St. Nicholas Magazine
between 1912 and 1913, including "Jack Sprat and his wife," which highlights Rackham's wonderful use of shadow, and "Hark, hark, the dogs do bark!" which shows his typical detailed faces.
During the 1930s Rackham published two deluxe editions of fairy tale collections: Fairy Tales by Hans Andersen
(1932) and The Arthur Rackham Fairy Book
(1933). Of all the fairy tale authors, Andersen was Rackham's favorite, and he had been thinking about an edition of Andersen's tales for several years before he began work on it in the early 1930s. In the autumn of 1932, Rackham traveled to Denmark with his daughter Barbara (his wife was by then an invalid), and while in Copenhagen he was delighted to meet a woman "who in her childhood - her very early childhood it must have been - had listened, unsuspected by the author, to Andersen himself reading for the first time some of his own newly written stories. While he read she sat on the floor under the table, silent as a mouse, hidden from Andersen's view by the tablecloth."
Although Rackham observed that he "made no attempt in my illustrations to look through Danish eyes," 16 he also stated his reasons for the trip: "This sensation experienced in childhood in foreign fairy tales is a foretaste of that encountering of familiar things in unfamiliar guise which later is one of the joys of foreign travel." 17 His illustration of "The Snow Queen" perfectly reflects that combination of foreign yet familiar. The book was selected by Hugh Walpole for the Observer as the best picture book of 1932. By the 1960s it was one of the most difficult of Rackham's books to buy secondhand.
The other example of fairy tale collections, which is one of the gems of the Clarke Library's collection, is the deluxe edition of The Arthur Rackham Fairy Book
, which was published in 1933. For this book, Rackham created all-new illustrations and again wrote an "Illustrator's Preface" in which he acknowledged the oral tradition of the tales he chose to include in the book. His commentary concludes with a portrait of himself as a raven with a duckling looking up at him.
The Fairy Book
contains examples of nearly every style Rackham worked in, including complex color illustrations, black-and-white line drawings and sketches, silhouettes, woodcuts, head- and tail-pieces, and characteristically decorated endpapers. Moreover, in numerous places throughout the book Rackham acts as a "mediator between the reader and the text, calling attention to confrontations with the marvelous"
18 and allowing the reader to participate in this confrontation by inviting him or her into the picture. For example, in the illustration for "The Three Bears," the smallest bear is looking at the reader rather than at the other bears; this is also true in "Hop-o'-my-Thumb" where one of the small children glances over his shoulder at the reader. What makes the Clarke Library's copy unique, however, is the original sketch in pen and ink, signed by Rackham, that appears on the flyleaf and depicts Morgiana from "Ali Baba" filling the jars with oil to save her master and his family from the thieves.
The Wind in the Willows
was the last book Rackham illustrated. Fittingly, it contains some of his most accomplished and beautiful illustrations. As Hudson notes, "There is a mellow grace, a gentle wisdom, an affectionate humour in these drawings that make them the perfect farewell."
19 The American deluxe edition was issued with the largest of all runs, with 2020 copies, and contained sixteen color plates. The American trade edition, in contrast, had only twelve color plates but contained fourteen black-and-white line drawings within the text.
20 The last illustration Rackham completed was the one of Ratty and Mole loading their boat for the picnic; he initially forgot to include the oars, but painstakingly added them at the end. Typically, Rackham included a self-caricature in his illustration of the clerk at the railway station when Toad is attempting to escape in the guise of a washerwoman. By far his most beautiful illustration, however, was his rendition of the great god Pan, which many readers consider Rackham's masterpiece.
1 Hudson, Arthur Rackham
4 Starkie, Scholars and Gypsies, 19.
5 The American edition, which is the edition the Clarke Library owns, was published two years later in 1914, with a print run of three hundred copies that were not signed by Rackham.
6 Hamilton, Arthur Rackham, 97. Two more versions of the Peter Pan story were published with Rackham's illustrations: The Little White Bird (1912) with two poor black-and-white reproductions of color illustrations from Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, "The Broad Walk," and "The Serpentine," and J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, Retold by May Byron for Little People (1929) with a number of black-and-white reprints of color plates from the original Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens along with a selection of black-and-white illustrations, most of which were drawn for the 1906 original.
7 The trade edition of Alice sold 14,322 copies of the six-shilling edition in the first six months of publication, a better figure than for any of his other books, according to Hamilton, Arthur Rackham, 89.
8 Hudson, Arthur Rackham
10 Gordon N. Ray, The Illustrator and the Book in England from 1790 to 1914
(New York: Dover, 1976), 204.
11 Max Reinhardt (1873-1943) was one of the best-known theater directors and managers of the twentieth century; he was instrumental in transforming the director's role in modern theater.
12 According to Hamilton, the trade editions of each of the books sold tremendously well during their first three months: 6,129 copies for Aesop's Fables,
and 6,039 copies for Mother Goose
. The British trade editions for both books contained exactly the same drawings, but they also included decorated pictorial endpapers not present in the deluxe editions.
13 Richard Riall, A New Bibliography of Arthur Rackham
(Bath, United Kingdom: Ross Press, 1994), 116, points out that "The American edition is far more desirable [than the British] . . . with the quality paper, [it is] a far better publication."
14 St. Nicholas
was an illustrated monthly magazine for children published from 1873-1940. Its first editors were Mary Mapes Dodge, Frank R. Stockton, and John T. Trowbridge, and its contributors included such well-known authors as Louisa May Alcott, Susan Coolidge, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Mark Twain, G. A. Henty, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Rudyard Kipling.
15 Arthur Rackham, "Notes by the Illustrator," in Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen
(London: G. G. Harrap, 1933), n.p.
18 Gillian Adams, "Arthur Rackham's Fairy Book: A Confrontation with the Marvelous," in Touchstones: Reflections on the Best in Children's Literature,
vol. 3, edited by Perry Nodelman (West Lafayette, IN: Children's Literature Association, 1989), 118.
19 Hudson, Arthur Rackham
20 The American trade edition, published by Heritage Press in 1940, was published ten years before the first British trade edition ( Methuen, 1950); in 1951 the first British deluxe edition was published in a limited edition of five hundred copies, with twelve mounted color plates and numerous textual illustrations. To the best of my knowledge, an edition containing all sixteen of the color plates and all of the black-and-white illustrations has not yet been published.