Monday, April 13, 2009

That's a Whole Lotta Bull . . .

. . .and that's a great thing. René Bull (1872-1942) is not an instantly recognizable name, even here among fans of illustration. Born in Dublin, Ireland, he had a fair career in the trade, with a good deal of time as a war correspondent, covering stories from 1896 up into WWI (including time in the mid-east and India). A generous portion of his work resides in periodicals of the day, and what was not war art, might have been early humorous cartoons. But IF you have come across his name, there is an excellent chance it is in association with this book—The Arabian Nights—

Bull did sizable jobs on a few books, including a nice Rubáiyat of Omar Khayyám in 1913, but it is hard to compare even that otherwise beautiful collection to his work in The Arabian Nights.

The better editions of Bull's The Arabian Nights (First editions being from 1912) contain 20 full color-tipped in plates, and 98 black and white pieces. Some full-page, some worked into the text, some done in an early halftone method . . . all of them top-notch. How he maintained such a high degree of quality on such a large amount of work astounds me. It is the book that his name will go on living for, and in my opinion, makes him one of the two best illustrators of these tales that I have had the pleasure of looking through. While his color work here is bright, well-balanced, and full of all of the life and details we want to imagine, the line work is out of this world. Rarely have I seen line look more fluid, more natural in its description, or more efficient in its ability to convey a form. Bull captures character, light, and climate in his amazing use of nothing other than black ink. Put this whole package together, it stands up to the very best books of the period.

Information on Bull is hard to come by. He went on to do Andersen's Fairy Tales and a Gulliver's Travels, also A book of The Russian Ballet, and an adaptation of Carmen, but they fall short of the brilliance he achieved with The Arabian Nights and to some extant, his Rubáiyat. Perhaps it was his personal interest in the east and his own experiences there that gave those projects their dynamic spark. Bull did work into the 1930's, though the work wasn't as plentiful, his name comes up on dust jacket art on numerous juvenile projects.

If you haven't come across him before, remember his name for this 1912 edition.

See you next week—Jeff

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