Friday, January 13, 2012

Featured Item of the Week: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, with an original drawing by Arthur Rackham

As many of you may know, we recently released an e-catalogue dedicated to the work of Arthur Rackham, one of the most prolific illustrators of the early twentieth century. One of the items included is a deluxe copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland with a signed drawing on the limitation page. Rackham books with original drawings are fairly uncommon, and the fact that this title is the only one that Rackham did not sign in the deluxe issue in his lifetime makes this copy especially rare.

As an illustrator, Rackham was a perfectionist who paid careful attention to every detail of his commissions. However, a lighter side of the artist is revealed in the freehand illustrations that he occasionally made on the flyleaves of his books. These were often done at the request of a fan, or for a special presentation copy. According to James Hamilton's biography of the artist, "[Rackham] would willingly make flyleaf illustrations for owners of his books, making it clear that he was to be entirely free to do whatever suggested itself to him." The drawings are almost always lighthearted and humorous, done in a loose, freehand style. Rackham explains that this was because "the nature of the paper is such that there can be no preparatory drawing and no alterations," freeing him to create something spontaneous and whimsical: "a jeu d'esprit," as he describes it (Hamilton, p. 156).

For the drawing in our copy of Alice, Rackham drew inspiration from his illustration of Alice's encounter with the caterpillar. In the book illustration, the Caterpillar tranquilly offers his advice while Alice listens politely. However, in the watercolor sketch Rackham chose to depict Alice and the Caterpillar in the midst of an earnest, animated discussion.

Hamilton notes that Rackham took a lot of care with these small "commissions." Alice was apparently a very difficult title to decorate in this manner: Hamilton cites a letter in which Rackham explains to a client how the particular paper used for this title immediately soaked up even the slightest touch of moisture, like blotting paper, causing the paper to lose its shape a little and the ink to dry a different color than originally intended. Nonetheless, the drawing in our copy of Alice still perfectly captures the pink flowers on Alice's dress and the caterpillar's green hue.

For more information on this item, and about other works by Arthur Rackham, please visit our website. Thank you for reading, and we look forward to sharing another item with you next week.

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