Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A History of Illustration at Freeman's Auction


Interested in book arts as always, I decided to make a last minute dash to catch the last day of the books and manuscripts show at Freeman's Auction here in Philadelphia. I heard they had a copy of Alice in Wonderland with Arthur Rackham illustrations, so I was curious. I didn't know about the treasure trove of American Illustrators I was about to stumble on.


I went through and dug out my old History of Illustration notes on each of these artists. So you'll find a bunch of random observations. Unlike every other art history course I have taken, the History of Illustration class quizzed us by making us recognize pictures by the artists that we likely hadn't seen yet, so you'll see a lot of notes about artistic styles here.

Howard Pyle

I happily came across some Howard Pyle books when I began. I was pleasantly surprised regarding his masterful use of negative space in 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.

Howard Pyle notes:
Theater was influencing art
Compositions like theater stages. Figures=actors
Replicated what theater did
Puts you into the scen, observing from within
Wrote about Robin Hood and King Arthur
Symbolist influence
Colors were extraordinary
Opened a school near Brandywine River
Unique for the time almost 1/2 of his students were women
Encouraged them to be the BEST
Modernized illustration
Father of American Illustration
Very serious about his work and taught it that way
Distinctive pen/ink style. Rich earth tones against bright primaries.
Would expose his students' work to publishers

Jesse Wilcox Smith

I was so happy to come across an entire trove of Jesse Wilcox Smith books (now if only there were some Violet Oakley books there, we'd really be cooking!). It was really lovely to see these illustrations in person in their publications, rather than on screens as I've always viewed them. This was the medium these illustrators excelled at. Wilcox Smith is almost like the Mary Cassat of illustrators - but rather than mother and child scenes, it's mostly children and nursery rhymes, and they're done a way that doesn't make me gag. Her pictures are so charming, you can see why she was meant for this field. 

Old notes on Jesse Wilcox Smith
10 years younger than Howard Pyle One of his students at Drexel and then at Brandywine
Beautiful palettes
Great sense of design
Ladies  home journal, harper's weekly, good housekeeping
Best known for Waterbabies
Classic fairytales
Used photography very well
A Christmas Carol
Realism in Work-->Very interesting
Learned the stage quality (theater) from howard Pyle
Much more intimate, subtle and engaging way to approach illustration
Amazing mural painter

I felt really inspired by Arthur Rackham's silhouette covers. 

Since Rackham is such a household name, I focused my precious hour on most of the Jesse Wilcox Smith books (and others I'll get to in a moment). Sorry I don't have more to show! Here are my old Rackham notes:

  • Had many assignments before he found his style
  • HIs first major work was Rip Van Winkle
  • Next masterpiece was Peter Pan 
  • Did Alice in Wonderland
  • Also did adult nice books: A Midsummer Night's Dream in 190
  • Combined fantasy and realism
  • Subdued palette
  • Anthropormorphised trees

And of course, I looked at the Alice in Wonderland copy. Which, although racked with all the Rackham books, was illustrated by Peter Newell? I haven't heard of him before, but each page had such a painstakingly detailed border

Accompanying starkly different illustrations (though nonetheless beautiful):

Ever since I entered, this book and its wonderful title font was calling to me. Edmund Dulac sounds like a familiar name, but I can't find him in my notes. I've Wikipedia'd him so he's not as mysteroius, but stumbling upon this book felt so wonderful. It made me think a bit more on the collaboration that illustration is between two creative people, a writer and an artist. Sometimes, that collaboration goes just perfectly. A lot of these are detail shots, because I couldn't help myself. Whoever bids and wins this book is a very, very lucky person.

Title page reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsly illustrations.

Caption: A circle of mist seemed to be settling around them.
Caption: And then, leaning against a mass-grown crumbling tree, was a spirit-like being out of another world.

Caption: It was the miraculous bubbles.

My favorite illustration of all:

You can bid on this beautiful book here, and I will live vicariously through you and your expendable income. 

Some more exhibit shots:

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