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Sleeping Beautyby Arthur (ilt) Rackham
Synopses & Reviews
Arthur Rackham’s long and distinguished career left a legacy of over 60 treasured picture books. Among them are many classic fairy tales but Sleeping Beauty is unique (along with Cinderella )in using a silhouette technique to tell the familiar story, along with a few full-color illustrations. One might think that silhouettes could be dull, or stark, but in Rackham’s masterful hands this is far from the case. The level of detail and mood achieved in these illustrations is remarkable. The witch at the christening is menacing, the prince leaning over the sleeping Briar-Rose tender, the sleeping castle is eerily hushed, and all without faces. For this beautiful new edition, the distinguished illustrator Michael Hague has written a lovely introduction.
Rackham believed strongly in working closely with authors, and it is clear he and C.S. Evans collaborated well in rendering Perrault’s basic elements. It is a version of its time (Edwardian) and place (Great Britain) and softens some of the story’s more brutal elements. Where Evans truly excels is in detail, and as the story has been expanded to over 11,000 words he has plenty of room to describe the feast of the christening, the outrage of the town over the ban on spinning wheels, the remains of unsuccessful princes stuck in the briars surrounding the sleeping castle, and the glorious gifts the princess received for her birthdays as she grew up in royal splendor.
Laughing Elephant has long enjoyed bringing the great illustrators out of the past and into the present. In their new Illustrated Classics series they hope to revive these treasures with grace and intelligence and delight a whole new generation of children and adults.
Arthur Rackham’s long and distinguished career left a legacy of over 60 treasured picture books. Among them are many classic fairy tales but Sleeping Beauty is unique (along with Cinderella )in using a silhouette technique to tell the familiar story, along with a few full-color illustrations. One might think that silhouettes could be dull, or stark, but in Rackham’s masterful hands this is far from the case. The level of detail and mood achieved in these illustrations is remarkable. The witch at the christening is menacing, the prince leaning over the sleeping Briar-Rose tender, the sleeping castle is eerily hushed, and all without faces.
About the Author
Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) is a titan among children’s book illustrators. His influence, talent and greatness cannot be overstated. But this man who created such exquisite picture books, who painted ethereal fairies, gnarled dwarves, romantic princesses and windswept trees had a rather staid life. Indeed, many a frustrated biographer has searched for a link between Arthur Rackham and the notorious 18th century pirate John “Calico Jack” Rackham, hoping to explain the gap between the man and his work, but thus far it isn’t a certainty. Arthur Rackham was born to a middle class family, was early on a clerk and started drawing for newspapers. He moved on to the burgeoning book illustration market, and by 1906 was a leader of children’s book illustration’s Golden Age. Rackham produced – along with Kay Nielsen, Edmund Dulac, Willy Pogany and others, lavish large format books for children with tissue guards, mounted pictures, gilt-embossed covers and – most importantly – exquisitely rendered illustrations. At the height of the Golden Age Rackham was in the enviable position of dictating to his publishers what he wanted to illustrate, and in this period some of his most beautiful books were made, including Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (1906) Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1907), A Midsummer-Night's Dream (1908), Undine (1909) and Mother Goose (1913).
One biographer described Rackham as “a neat alert person, tidy, energetic, punctual.” He was by all accounts a loyal husband and father, and a disciplined artist who avoided the pitfalls that others in his occupation are all too prone to. Rackham seemed to put his Id in his work, and what work it is. The undulating expressiveness of his lines is unmistakably Rackham-esque (and often copied). His color palette is restrained, some might argue too restrained, but where a less talented artist might distract us with brightness, Rackham the master seduces with moderation. His illustrations are alive with movement. Some are sensual, others sweet, some are terrifying. Rackham was a very versatile illustrator, lending his talents to authors as diverse as Shakespeare, Richard Wagner, Poe, Milton, J.M. Barrie, Hawthorne, Dickens, Christina Rossetti and Oliver Goldsmith, among many others. At the very end of this life, ill with the cancer that would end it, he was asked to illustrate Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows, a commission he had rejected some thirty years earlier. Rackham had always regretted that decision, especially as Grahame had died a few years earlier in 1932. But he went ahead, though he could work only 30 minutes per day, and Wind in the Willows was another Rackham treasure, his last.
Charles Seddon Evans (1883-1944) was educated at East London College and began his career as a schoolmaster before joining the publishing house of Edward Arnold as Educational Editor in 1909. He moved to the firm of Heinemann in 1913, where he spent the rest of his working life, becoming Chairman and Managing Director in 1932. He wrote this version of The Sleeping Beauty as a companion volume to Cinderella, also illustrated by Arthur Rackham.
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