Arthur Rackham was born in 1867, in Lewisham, into a Victorian age that he perpetuated and documented by way of his art. He was one of twelve children. He studied at the City of London School, where he won prizes and a reputation for his art. 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. At the age of 18, he became a clerk.
He clerked and in his spare time studied at the Lambeth School of Art. He made occasional sales to the illustrated magazines of the day like Scraps and Chums. 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. Book illustrating then became Rackham’s career for the rest of his life.
By the turn of the Century, Rackham had developed a reputation for pen and ink fantasy illustration with richly illustrated gift books such as The Ingoldsby Legends (1898), Gulliver’s Travels and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm (both 1900).
- The Zankiwank and the Bletherwitch (by Shafto Justin Adair Fitzgerald), 1896
- Two Old Ladies, Two Foolish Fairies, and a Tom Cat (by Maggie Browne), 1897
- Feats on the Fjord (by Harriet Martineau), 1899
- The Greek Heroes (by Barthold Georg Niebuhr), 1903
- Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (by J.M. Barrie), 1906
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (by Lewis Carroll), 1907
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream (by William Shakespeare), 1908
- Tales from Shakespeare (by Charles and Mary Lamb), 1909
- Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, 1909
- Gulliver’s Travels (by Jonathan Swift), 1909
- Siegfried and The Twilight of the Gods (by Richard Wagner), 1911
- Arthur Rackham’s Book of Pictures, 1913
- Mother Goose: The Old Nursery Rhymes, 1913
- A Christmas Carol (by Charles Dickens), 1915
- Little Brother and Little Sister and Other Tales (by The Brothers Grimm), 1917
- The Romance of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table (by Alfred W. Pollard), 1917
- English Fairy Tales (by Flora Annie Steel), 1918
- The Springtide of Life: Poems of Childhood (by Algernon Charles Swinburne), 1918
- Some British Ballads, 1918
- Cinderella (ed. Charles S. Evans), 1919
- The Sleeping Beauty (ed. Charles S. Evans), 1920
- Irish Fairy Tales (by James Stephens), 1920
- Snowdrop and Other Tales (by the Brothers Grimm), 1920
- A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys (by Nathaniel Hawthorne), 1922
- The Tempest (by William Shakespeare), 1926
- The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (by Washington Irving), 1928
- The King of the Golden River (by John Ruskin), 1932
- Fairy Tales (by Hans Christian Andersen), 1932
- Goblin Market (by Christina Rossetti), 1933
- Tales of Mystery & Imagination (by Edgar Allan Poe), 1935
- The Wind in the Willows (by Kenneth Grahame), posthumously 1940 US, 1950 UK
Rackham’s illustrations were chiefly based on robust pen and India ink drawings. He would first lightly block in shapes and details of the drawing with a soft pencil, for the more elaborate color plates often using one of a small selection of compositional devices. 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 color pictures, he would begin painting by building up multiple thin washes of watercolor creating translucent tints.
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.
He always kept his gentle humor. From 1906 the family lived in Chalcot Gardens, near Haverstock Hill, until moving from London to Houghton, West Sussex, in 1920. In 1929, the family settled into a newly built property in Limpsfield, Surrey. Arthur Rackham died in 1939 of cancer at his home.
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