Arthur Rackham: Masterpieces Of Art by Joseph Simas (book review).

Arthur Rackham: Masterpieces Of Art by Joseph Simas
Front cover: When they think you are not looking they skip along pretty lively – from J.M. Barrie’s ‘Peter Pan In Kensington Gardens’, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1906

I do wonder how many of you will recognise the name Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) as he influenced so many artists at the turn of the last century and he was prolific over several significant books. He certainly had his effect on John Tenniel and Beatrix Potter, often moving from simple to complex line and doing texture so well it becomes obvious and nary a wasted line, all with added humour. If ever there was an artist to aspire to in fantasy illustration, then Arthur Rackham is the one to look at. The man could switch from serious to comic without losing a beat. He could do animals and trees and be playful and expressive. He could also express motion well, no mean feat when he doesn’t always have shadows there.

Arthur Rackham: Masterpieces Of Art by Joseph Simas
Children’s Books opener spread: The wayfarer saluted with a gesture of courtesy that had something foreign about it – from Kenneth Grahame’s ‘The Wind In The Willows’, The Limited Editions Club, New York, 1940.
Arthur Rackham: Masterpieces Of Art by Joseph Simas
P91. from Washington Irvine’ ‘Rip Van Wrinkle’, William Heinemann, London, 1905.
P92. from Jonathan Swift’s ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ E.P. Dutton, 1908.

With my more critical artist eye on, looking at the art, the majority of the work is done at eye level. No odd angles but this is also probably typical of its time and a need to show the viewer what they are looking at, whether it is the tortoise and the hare getting ready to race to any number of other scenes.

Arthur Rackham: Masterpieces Of Art by Joseph Simas
P114-115. Cinderella, William Heinemann, London, 1919.

A bigger surprise was his capability to do silhouettes. You might think doing these would cut down on his time but looking at the detail and placement, I do think he probably drew much of the detail before blacking it down to have that precise effect.

If you’ve never sampled his work before, then this book is a treat and worthy of your attention.

GF Willmetts

April 2021

(pub: Flame Tree Publishing, 2015. 127 page large square illustrated indexed hardback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78361-362-5)

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