Feeling very Undancy by Arthur Rackham

There was a point in her youth when, much to her mother's dismay, the VV felt very 'undancy', preferring to stay in her bedroom and dream, and that bedroom painted a very dark green, with oriental shawls and fans, and peacock feathers and pampas grasses and, in pride of place, above her bed, not the usual posters of pop stars, but some poignantly beautiful printed cards with softly rounded corners depicting the seductively inky illustrations of the Victorian artist, Arthur Rackham.

Arthur Rackham 1867 - 1939 - a self portrait

How serious and respectable Arthur looks in this self portrait, more like an accountant from the 1950's than a man who created such magical scenes of fairytales and myths. But then, he did indeed work as a clerk at the Westminster Fire Office before going on to study part time at the Lambeth School of Art.

Fairy on a Spider's Web

At the age of twenty five, Arthur left his 'serious' job and began a career in book illustration, devising a gritty, realistic technique which involved sketching an outline in pencil and then blocking in some colour, before adding detail in india ink. Sometimes this 'sepia' monotone look was enhanced with watercolours, building up layers of transparent tints. He also worked with silhouettes and was inspired by Japanese woodblocks.

A decidely Japanese influence in this illustration taken from Das Rhiengold

The director, Guillermo Del Toro says that Rackham inspired his work, notably the faun in Pan's Labyrinth - as well as the tree that grows out of a Scottish church altar in Hellboy which Del Toro called the 'Rackham Tree'.

The faun in Pan's Labryinth

Arthur Rackham is still inspiring the VV's imagination today while she writes a new novel based on a Victorian artist. His work was very prolific and though filled with romance, it is rarely 'twee'- perhaps due to the clarity and truth of  line, which is also something to be said of another favourite illustrator, the contempory artist, P J Lynch. 

The Rhienmaidens from The Ring

There is a wealth of Rackham's work to view online, as well as still being available in many children's classic books, from the stories of the Brother's Grimm, and Lewis Carol's Alice in Wonderland. to the Romance of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, or English Fairy Tales, or Peter Pan, or The Ring - to touch on but a few.  

Here is just one of the tributes to his work found on Youtube - Enjoy!


  1. He did such beautiful illustrations and who would have thought this vivid, romantic imagination lay behind that exterior. 'Feeling very Undancy' was on my bedroom wall throughout my teens, until it faded so badly that the figure could barely be seen! Lovely to remember it, thanks for sharing. Jane Gray

  2. A pleasure, Jane - these illustrations really do evoke some strong emotions, particularly for those of us who had them on our bedroom walls!

  3. What lovely pictures. Rackham did some interesting and powerful illustrations of Edgar Allan Poe's writings, but I was unfamiliar with his more romantic works. Thanks!

  4. And he illustrated a version of 'Undine'!

  5. I think you point out so well that he obviously lived in his imagination. He was one of twelve children and presumbably developed his (very English) humour and balance from that. Still no one really like him.

  6. Rackham and Dulac are my absolute favourites!

  7. Thank you so much VV!
    His drawings were illustrating many of my dreams too, and I remember now, they did help the anxious kid for being aware of what or who he should have to be dealing with while he was sleeping!... A great artist! A kind of a friend, as he was the only witness of my dreams finally!

    Bonne journee VV!