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Arthur Rackham

Arthur Rackham
Born (1867-09-19)19 September 1867
Lewisham, Kent, England
Died 6 September 1939(1939-09-06) (aged 71)
Limpsfield, Surrey, England
Nationality English
Known for Children's literature, Illustration
One of Rackham's illustrations to Das Rheingold, depicting Fasolt and Fafner seizing Freia.
Arthur Rackham

(19 September 1867 – 6 September 1939) was an English book illustrator.


  • Biography 1
  • Significance 2
  • Technique 3
  • Notable works 4
  • Gallery 5
  • Influence 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Rackham was born in Lewisham, then still part of Kent as one of 12 children. In 1884, at the age of 17, he was sent on an ocean voyage to Australia to improve his fragile health, accompanied by two aunts.[1] At the age of 18, he worked as a clerk at the Westminster Fire Office and began studying part-time at the Lambeth School of Art.[2]

In 1892, he left his job and started working for the Westminster Budget as a reporter and illustrator. His first book illustrations were published in 1893 in To the Other Side by Thomas Rhodes, but his first serious commission was in 1894 for The Dolly Dialogues, the collected sketches of Anthony Hope, who later went on to write The Prisoner of Zenda. Book illustrating then became Rackham's career for the rest of his life.

By the turn of the century Rackham was regularly contributing illustrations to children's periodicals such as Little Folks and Cassell's Magazine. In 1903, he married Edyth Starkie, with whom he had one daughter, Barbara, in 1908. Although acknowledged as an accomplished book illustrator for some years, it was the publication of Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle by Heinemann in 1905 that particularly brought him into public attention, his reputation being confirmed the following year with J.M.Barrie's Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, published by Hodder & Stoughton. Rackham won a gold medal at the Milan International Exhibition in 1906 and another one at the Barcelona International Exposition in 1912. His works were included in numerous exhibitions, including one at the Louvre in Paris in 1914.

From 1906 the family lived in Chalcot Gardens, near Haverstock Hill,[3] until moving from London to Houghton, West Sussex in 1920. In 1929 the family settled into a newly built property in Limpsfield, Surrey.[4] Arthur Rackham died in 1939 of cancer at his home.


Arthur Rackham 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. Many of Rackham's books were produced in a de luxe limited edition, often vellum bound and sometimes signed, as well as a larger, less ornately bound quarto 'trade' edition. This was often followed by a more modestly presented octavo edition in subsequent years for particularly popular books. The onset of the war in 1914 curtailed the market for such quality books, and the public's taste for fantasy and fairies also declined in the 1920s.

Arthur Rackham's 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. His original drawings and paintings are keenly sought at the major international art auction houses.


Cinderella silhouette illustration

Rackham's illustrations were chiefly based on robust pen and India ink drawings. Rackham gradually perfected his own uniquely expressive line from his background in journalistic illustration, paired with subtle use of watercolour, a technique which he was able to exploit due to technological developments in photographic reproduction. He would first lightly block in shapes and details of the drawing with a soft pencil, for the more elaborate colour plates often utilising one of a small selection of compositional devices.[5] Over this he would then carefully work in lines of pen and India ink, removing the pencil traces after the drawing had begun to take form. For colour pictures, he would begin painting by building up multiple thin washes of watercolour creating translucent tints. One of the disadvantages of the 3-colour (later 4-colour) printing process in the early years was that definition could be lost in the final print, Rackham would sometimes compensate for this by over-inking his drawings once more after painting.[6] He would also go on to expand the use of silhouette cuts in illustration work, particularly in the period after the First World War, as exemplified by his Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella.[7]

Typically, Rackham contributed both colour and monotone illustrations towards the works incorporating his images – and in the case of Hawthorne's Wonder Book, he also provided a number of part-coloured block images similar in style to Meiji era Japanese woodblocks.

Rackham's work is often described as a fusion of a northern European 'Nordic' style strongly influenced by the Japanese woodblock tradition of the early 19th century.

Notable works

Frontispiece to English Fairy Tales
The fairy ring



In one of the featurettes on the DVD of Pan's Labyrinth, and in the commentary track for Hellboy, director Guillermo del Toro cites Rackham as an influence on the design of "The Faun" of Pan's Labyrinth. He liked the dark tone of Rackham's gritty realistic drawings and had decided to incorporate this into the film. In Hellboy, the design of the tree growing out of the altar in the ruined abbey off the coast of Scotland where Hellboy was brought over, is actually referred to as a "Rackham tree" by the director.


  1. ^ Hudson, Derek, Arthur Rackham: His Life and Work, Heinemann London 1960
  2. ^ Silvey, 373
  3. ^ James Hamilton - Arthur Rackham, A Biography, Arcade Publishing NY 1990. p.79
  4. ^ Hamilton p.119
  5. ^ Gettings, Fred: Arthur Rackham (Studio Vista 1975, p.55-76)
  6. ^ Gettings p.51
  7. ^ Arousing Delight, Arthur Rackham

External links

  • Works by Arthur Rackham at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about Arthur Rackham at Internet Archive
  • Arthur Rackham and his art
  • Biography Online Gallery Ephemea freely downloadable at Fairyworx,Part of the Golden Age of Illustrators Collection
  • Arthur Rackham's illustrations for Fairy Tales, Myths and Legends
  • Innovated Life Art Gallery: Select illustrations by Arthur Rackham, biography and contemporary reviews
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, illustrated by Arthur Rackham
  • Arthur Rackham art at Art Passions (free online gallery)
  • SurLaLune Fairy Tale Pages: Fairy Tale Illustrations of Arthur Rackham
  • Arthur Rackham artwork at American Art Archives web site
  • Complete Arthur Rackham Collection for 'The Ring of the Nibelung'
  • Information about Arthur Rackham and his art
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