Artist biography

English illustrator. He became widely known for his illustrations to the classic children's stories and fairy tales. Despite the fantasy of his subjects, Rackham maintained a strict sense of reality by giving his creatures human traits and foibles, and naturalistic, even known, settings.

In Rackham's early commissions his style took on the appearance of woodcuts, with the main figures being drawn in thick pen and brush. From 1905 to 1910, as printing techniques improved, his line became sharper. Rackham was not a bold colourist, preferring a restricted palette of soft reds, greens or blues applied with local highlights in several layers of transparent watercolour wash. This manner could be faithfully reproduced by the new three-colour separation printing process. Later in his career Rackham developed his use of local pattern and significant background detail of furniture, pottery or plants. In the 1920s and 1930s this manner became stylised, with the influence of Art Deco or Indian and Persian miniatures.

After World War I, Rackham's popularity declined in Britain and shifted to the USA, which he eventually visited in 1927.

Rackham's surroundings had a potent effect on his work. His daughter, Barbara, posed for him regularly. Rackham's unique psychological approach to his texts and the brilliance of his characterisation, make him one of the great illustrators of the twentieth century. His illustrations to The Rhinegold and the Valkyrie (1910) and his silhouettes in The Sleeping Beauty (1920) had particular influence on the film makers Fritz Lang and Lotte Reiniger.

Bibliography
D. Hudson: Arthur Rackham: His Life and Work (London, 1960, rev. 1974)
F. Gettings: Arthur Rackham (London, 1975)
Arthur Rackham (exh. cat., ed. J. Hamilton; Sheffield, Graves A.G., 1979)
J. Hamilton: Arthur Rackham: A Life with Illustration (London and New York, 1990)

JAMES HAMILTON

Copyright material reproduced courtesy of Oxford University Press, New York

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