Thursday, August 27, 2009

Artistic Influences: Dulac, Rackham, and all the mermaids

There are two other fairy tale illustrators from the "Golden Age of Book Illustration" whose work influenced me as a child. Though Kay Nielsen was probably my favorite (see August 20 post), I also greatly admired the work of Edmund Dulac and Aurthur Rackham. These illustratiors used mainly watercolor or gouache, which, now that I think about it, may be why I prefer watercolor to other painting media. I love the clarity and transparency of the colors; to me they seem infused with light.

"Undine Lost in the Danube" by Aurthur Rackham

I think it's important to understand the origin of this "Golden Age", and why it produced such a proliferation of great illustrators. Dulac, Nielsen, and Rackham are only three of the great number of fine illustrators whose work graced the pages of fairy tales, story books, and magazines around the turn of the century. It all had to do with technology. "Until the mid-1890s, there had been no economical method of reproducing color plates. Printing methods in those days varied from printer to printer and were most often patented - and were always being improved. The invention of the process we now call "color separation" made it possible to mass-produce color images and by 1905 they improved the process to create images that were very faithful to the originals. The only drawback was that they had to be printed on a special coated paper and therefore couldn't be bound into the book with the rest of the pages." (

"Brunhilde" by Aurthur Rackham

Rackham is the quintessential story book artist, and his work has perhaps been seen by more people than any other illustrator of this period. Traits of his famous style include "a sinuous pen line softened with muted water color; forests of looming, frightening trees with grasping roots; sensuous, but somehow chaste, fairy maidens; ogres and trolls ugly enough to repulse but with sufficient good nature not to frighten; backgrounds filled with little nuggets of hidden images or surprising animated animals or trees." (Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr.)

"The Mermaids had Sea Green Hair" by Aurthur Rackham

"Earth, Sea, and Sky" by Sharmon Davidson

When I saw the Rackham picture of the mermaids, I couldn't resist putting my own mermaid in here- especially since she also has green hair! I had never seen this one before, but it's a great coincidence, isn't it?

"Mermaid Sparkle" by Edmund Dulac

Dulac's sensuous, jewel-like colors are what sets his work apart. Jim Vadeboncoeur says, "Dulac, though capable of pen and ink work, was primarily a painter and used the new technology's ability to reproduce exact tones to let the color hold the shape and define the object. This is one of the effects of Dulac's timing. The color separation process was "perfected" just at the exact moment he arrived and he never had to deal with the old-fashioned necessity of an ink line bounding the color to hide misregistration."

"Stealers of Light" by Edmund Dulac

"Beauty" by Edmund Dulac

These lovely pictures revealed to me the magical power of images. If you look with an open mind and heart, they can open doors to other worlds that lie beyond our everyday lives. I am forever grateful to Nielsen, Dulac, and Rackham for opening those doors.

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