Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Visions of Camelot

Visions of Camelot: Great Illustrations of King Arthur and his Court

My relationship with Dover Publications goes back almost 11 years. Much longer if you look at the time their books have been influencing me. Dover prides itself in making available the hard-to-find, both in texts, and in images.

Having put together a handful of books for Dover— my favorites have been those connected by a central theme. The first like this was Poe: Illustrated. The idea and format were well enough received that we've been able to do a few more, the latest having hit Dover's site this week. This theme is a selection of Arthurian imagery.

Visions of Camelot, (now available here on Dover's site) is my fourth title with this approach. There are classic images you might expect, like a selection of Aubrey Beardsley's iconic line pieces from the 1894 Le Morte D'Arthur ; and a generous sampling of Howard Pyle's decorative ink style. Color works from such illustration giants as Walter Crane (one of his last books), Arthur Rackham, and N.C. Wyeth. In keeping with Dover's history, there are some rare gems as well—a nice group by British watercolor legend, Sir William Russell Flint, from early in his career, and seven pages of art-deco styled Arthur by Thomas Mackenzie. If Arthurian legend interests you, this collection of over 140 images gives you some of the best imagery created from 1893-1923, stylistically ranging from Victorian to Art-Deco.

From top to bottom on the right- The Crane plates are from 1911.They are less decorative, and more illustrative than his typical work, but they perform the task admirably. This plate, "Beaumins wins the fight at the ford," breaks from Crane's usual stoic poses, to throw the viewer full into the action.

Willy Pogany here is at his best- I love his work on Wagner's Ring Trilogy. 1911-1915. The plate from Parsifal places a classic grail knight at the throat of a dragon, complete with damsel and grail-shield. Note the tremendous restraint on Pogany's part—the image is two colors, only the thin halo around the knights head is printed in Brown-gold.

Howard Pyle's work (#3) got me into all of this. Like Gordon Grant, mentioned last week, (see below) Pyle uses ink to make lines that read as areas of values, an inking technique brought over from the days of preparing plates for engravers.

The last plate, is one of those scarce William Russell Flint pieces. Originally from a two-volume set, "She was a great huntress and daily she used to hunt, and ever she bare her bow with her." This piece has some great design qualities, and Flint's whole group reads to me as a powerful influence on the watercolor work of modern day master Alan Lee.

See you next week—Jeff

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