Saturday, July 23, 2011

Edmund Dulac's Fairy tale forte

In continuing my previews of the upcoming Calla releases, we are brought to an Edmund Dulac's illustrated edition—The Sleeping Beauty and Other Fairy Tales, retold by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. Quite a while ago, I spent some time on VIEW looking at two of the "edges" of Dulac's range- his more sophisticated works, and the Alphabet book he did early in his career. As a subject, The French fairy tales collected here are much more to the heart of Dulac's work, maybe only Arabian Nights material being more centric. This is considered by most to be among his best works, and with 30 full-page plates, it's hard to not find a few that are really special. Shown here, some of my favorites, from (Top to bottom) The frontispiece, from "The Sleeping Beauty," one from "Bluebeard," where Dulac let his love for Arabian themes come through—Two plates from "Cinderella," which as depicted here have a solidly French approach, and lastly a plate from "Beauty and the Beast," which may be one of Dulac's best-known fairy images.

Dulac was French-born, and likely would have been familiar with some of these tales from his own youth. Regardless of his history with the tale, it is quite evident there was a real passion put into the illustrations, they succeed on so many levels.

There are tales here that nearly all of us are familiar with—mostly due to the saturation our culture has with animated films—but there are also some stories which we may not be as quick to remember and are well worth revisiting. Quiller-Couch was quite an authority on writing and on children's stories in his day, and a solid writer on his own, to boot.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A master watercolorist rediscovers Wonderland

1907 was a HUGE year for Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.

Originally published in 1865, Carroll's copyright was up in 1907. (copyright at that time was not the near-century of protection it can be today) The popularity of the tale meant nearly every major publisher in Britain, and many in the US, had a new illustrated edition in the works. The most anticipated one at the time, was that of Arthur Rackham. Rackham's success in the gift-book market was already solid, and it remained to see how his Alice would hold up against the ingrained images of Alice's first artist, Sir John Tenniel.
After the flurry of 1907 releases hit the markets, one notable edition arrived a year later. (Probably due to the magnitude of the task) In 1908, an edition published by Thomas Nelson and Sons (London, Edinburgh, Dublin and New York) was released, with 92 full color illustrations by Harry Rountree (1878-1950). 92 color pieces. Rountree was an incredibly deft watercolorist. Unlike Rackham, Edmund Dulac or many others of the day, Rountree did not always rely on a solid line for his watercolor to fill (or did so rarely)—his style was different—His paintings often take true advantage of the watercolor as a medium, and display a sense of light that few other illustrators before him had captured. He also had the ability to present more realistic settings, without losing any of the charm that his characters portrayed . I am still in awe of the fact that this was in fact, a full-color print run, in 1908.
There are a few reasons why more of us are not familiar with this brilliant edition. The full-color run made it an expensive purchase in 1908. With a half a dozen editions out the previous year, most households that would be interested already held a new copy of Alice, and many of those would not be interested in a second one. The added delay of the full-color production would prove a costly one. Later printings featured some of the art, but rarely all of it—and Rountree would do two other editions of Alice in his career, but neither would contain this amount of color.
The edition today is prized among Alice collectors, and it did elevate Rountree's status in the market even further, putting his future on very solid ground. Rountree's animal work was to be the mainstay of his career in illustration. He was active in both books and magazines. Born in New Zealand, he came to London in 1901, and after an initial struggle, became part of the wave of success that period publishing brought illustrators of the day.

When considering which edition of Alice to bring to the Calla imprint, The Rountree Edition—due to its rarity, the brilliant full-color images, and the sheer depth of them—made me a strong backer for its joining the list. The Calla Edition is scheduled for a September release.

The Story of Wicked Tim
digital version of a 1914(ish) Rountree book

And some Rountree work currently available through the Chris Beetles gallery, in London.