RACKHAM, Arthur (1867-1939) and Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906). Peer Gynt. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., [1936].

$ 350.00

4to., (10 x 7 ¾ inches). Pictorial half-title, vignette title page, partially unopened. Color-printed frontispiece and 11 color plates with tissue guards present, head and tail pieces at the beginning and end of each act (one or two spots, lightly toned). Original publisher’s orange cloth gilt, pictorial endpapers (spine faded, extremities bumped).

First American edition, first published in London the same year. Partially unopened with all illustrations and tissue guards present. One of the last books that Arthur Rackham illustrated.

“His drawings for Peer Gynt [are] remarkably fresh and interesting” (Hudson, p. 140). “In the troll scenes, or in Peer’s moorland encounter with the threadballs Rackhamerie abounds” (Gettings, p. 165).

Arthur Rackham was a painter and illustrator who took evening classes at the Lambeth School of Art under the landscape painter William Llewellyn. He was encouraged to submit his illustrations to magazines, “but to earn a secure living Rackham became a junior clerk in the Westminster fire office in 1885, a post he held until 1892. He resigned to join the staff of the Pall Mall Budget as a news and features illustrator, and the following year he moved to the Westminster Budget and the Westminster Gazette. By now he was living in Buckingham Chambers, Strand, and was widening his practice by illustrating books for publishers. His name and reliability for delivery and content became known to publishers and public alike, and he was increasingly in demand. Rackham's first notable successes, which coincided with the beginnings of the fashion for lavishly produced gift books, were illustrations to ‘The Ingoldsby Legends’ (1898), ‘Gulliver's Travels’ (1900), and ‘Grimm's Fairy Tales’ (1900). These were followed by ‘The Greek Heroes’ (1903), ‘Rip Van Winkle’ (1905), ‘Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens’ (1906), and ‘Alice in Wonderland’ (1907).

“In the earlier books Rackham's style tended to take on the appearance of woodcuts, with the main features being drawn in thick pen and brush. From 1905 to 1910, as printing techniques improved, his line became sharper and likewise his detail more intense. In Rip Van Winkle and A Midsummer Night's Dream (1908) he developed his gift for drawing witches, gnomes, fairies, and anthropomorphized trees and brought them to a pitch of vivid characterization, sometimes with an unsettling frisson of horror. Trees with human limbs and faces became one of his trademarks, and may have been throwbacks to childhood memories of the Tradescants' garden. Despite the fantasy of his subjects, however, Rackham always maintained a strict sense of reality by giving his figures human traits and foibles and naturalistic, even recognizable, settings—illustrations in A Midsummer Night's Dream are variously set in Wimbledon Park, Ruislip churchyard, and Walberswick, Suffolk…

“Unlike his contemporary Edmund Dulac, Rackham was not a bold colourist. He tended to restrict his palette to soft blues, greens, and reds, in local highlights or in several layers of transparent watercolour wash, over a yellowy-buff tone which gives to the whole a quality of vellum, or age. This was a practical as well as an artistic decision, as colour handled in this way could be faithfully reproduced by the three-colour separation printing process which was a new feature of pre-First World War book production…

“In tune with the changing times, Rackham's style during the 1920s began to adopt hints of art deco, even of syncopation. This was a manner in which he was perhaps uneasy, but nevertheless his natural sense of design, of characterization, and his lyrical handling of line and wash did not leave him. Nor was there any perceptible change in the sympathetic approach he had always adopted to the reading of the texts he had chosen to illustrate. He had a keen ear for the moods his authors evoked and a natural understanding of the subtleties of human expression. This was the mature grounding which he drew upon throughout his career in his narrative evocations of evil, redemption, and fancy. In landscape watercolours and oil paintings, and in the handful of portraits he painted, Rackham emerges as a considerable artist whose gifts had been circumscribed by the needs of commercial book illustration…

“Among Rackham's last books—made after the family moved in 1930 to Stilegate, the house they had built near Limpsfield, Surrey—are E. A. Poe's ‘Tales of Mystery and Imagination’ (1935), ‘Peer Gynt’ (1936) [as here], and a third version of ‘A Midsummer Night's Dream’ (1939). His illustrations to Poe's ‘Tales’ have a sharp edge of true horror, a re-emergent strain from the earlier Grimm and Wagner subjects…

“Rackham brought a renewed sense of excitement to book illustration that coincided with the rapid developments in printing technology in the early twentieth century. Working with subtle colour and wiry line, he exploited the growing strengths of commercial printing to create imagery and characterizations that reinvigorated children's literature, electrified young readers, and dominated the art of book illustration at the start of a new century” (James Hamilton for DNB). Gettings, p. 181. Hudson, p. 182. Latimore and Haskell, p. 74. Riall, p. 192. HBS 67124.

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