Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Arthur Rackham's Rare and Revolutionary 1917 Illustrations

I saw this link on Tabled Fables to a brief article on Brain Pickings with the intriguing title: Arthur Rackham's Rare and Revolutionary 1917 Illustrations for the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales, by Maria Popova. Rackham illustrations are some of the most classic and iconic and you've probably seen his beautiful images before, so it's nice to read a little of the history behind the illustrators who helped redefine our mental image of fairy tales.
Rackham first illustrated Grimm fairy tales in 1909, and then "In 1917, amid the thickest darkness of World War I, Rackham returned to the Grimms — those supreme patron saints of the magical inside the macabre. This time, he interpreted the centuries-old tales differently: Where his first edition had been unapologetically violent and grim, the new one radiated what the human spirit most needed amid the hopelessness, destruction, and desecration of the war — beauty, enchantment, charm, hope, even humor."
I wish the article included more examples of this, comparing and contrasting the darker earlier illustrations with the more hopeful later ones. There are lots of illustrations, just not ones that show this concept-most didn't even say which edition they were from.
The article has more on his life and different publications but is a pretty quick read, mostly beautiful images.


  1. Stunning, though not illustrations I would put in a collection for children, even the "hopeful" ones have an air of darkness around them, very appropriate, as darkness and hope intermingling is quite typical for Grimms' fairy tales: My favoriteswould have to be the one for "The Old Woman in the Wood" and Maid Malleen (Obs noct Spindle, shuttle and needle ;)

    1. Yes "The Old Woman in the Wood" is such an enchanting illustration! And lol about mislabeling Maid Maleen...at first I thought maybe there was a version of Maid Maleen with a different title

    2. Spindle, Shuttle and Needle: http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/grimm188.html

  2. Oh, I like Arthur Rackham's illustrations. I remember his illustrations for "Alice in Wonderland." I thought that no one would ever beat the illustrations of Carroll and Tenniel (who I think did equally good on the illustrations). But then I saw Rackham's illustrations, and they were great! Very comparable to the Carroll and Tenniel illustrations.