Intersection: An Impromptu Homage to Arthur Rackham (1867-1939)

April 27, 2015

Someone I know is writing a biography of Arthur Rackham, so the Edwardian artist has been in my thoughts. I have to admit that Rackham’s work was a big influence on me as a teenager. Rackham had a delicate constitution that led him to leave high school as a teenager. He traveled to Australia with family friends where he recovered his health. His illustrations resonated with me as a teenager because I believed that he really saw the spirits; he clearly had an affinity for fairy tales and an eye for fantasy.

Roughly contemporary to Siméon Pelénc (1873-1935) but working in very different design ecosystems; both were responding to realism (or verismo) in art; Rackham’s market niche was established in the expensive gift book market (popular in America) that waned in the Interwar years in England. He enjoyed a huge adult following, but the war had brought such a deep level of disillusionment that fairies and fantastical were beyond the realm of verismo that carried art into a guttery lurid place.

During World War I, his wife Edyth (often described as his opposite: beautiful and daring) was struck down by pneumonia and subsequently had a heart attack that substantively weakened her. Their small family moved to a farmhouse with few amenities in the Sussex area. Though he looked wizened, Rackham was physically active, walking and cycling daily. To spend time in the natural world without luxuries, we take for granted the imaginary landscapes that can appear when the material senses are silenced.

"Rackham-esque Tree," design by Meredith Eliassen, 2015.

“Rackham-esque Tree,” design by Meredith Eliassen, 2015.

Over the weekend I drew the above image that was definitely inspired by an illustration by Arthur Rackham in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (Philadelphia: David McKay Company, 1928), and the quote describing Rackham’s fantastic tree appears on pages  82-83.

“In the centre of the road stood an enormous tulip tree which towered like a giant above all the other trees of the neighborhood and formed a kind of landmark. Its limbs were gnarled and fantastic, large enough to form trunks for ordinary trees, twisting down almost to the earth and rising again into the air.”

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