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Celebrate 150 Years of the Illustrator Who Brought Children’s Books to Life

Arthur Rackham’s work defined the style of his era and beyond

smithsonian.com

Starting in the late 19th century, advances in printing technology allowed images to be printed cheaply and in lively color. Consumers of newspapers and books, conversely, began to demand images to complement the words they were purchasing. Those two factors led to the rise of a so-called "Golden Age of Illustration."  One of the leading figures of this age was the English artist Arthur Rackham, who was born 150 years ago on this day, in the South London borough of Lewisham.

If you don't know his name, you'll know his illustrations. Rackham created many of the fantastical creatures and people that decorated the pages of the children's books in the early 20th century. Unassuming in appearance and manner, Rachkam worked as a junior insurance clerk before starting part-time at the Lambeth School of Art, where he began to translate a youthful passion for books into vivid illustrations that he made to accompany works of classic literature. 

Rackham's expressive, detailed style of art makes pieces like his iconic drawings of scenes in Grimm Brothers' Fairy Tales instantly recognizeable. Maria Popova of Brain Pickings opines that of all the artists to tackle Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, none did more for the work than Rackham, whose graphic designs for a 1907 printing influence the visual vocabularly of the story even today.

Enjoy a few of Rackham's many illustrations in the slideshow below.

A scene from Richard Wagner's operatic Ring Cycle (Arthur Rackham / Flickr)
A scene from Richard Wagner's operatic Ring Cycle (Arthur Rackham / Flickr)
A caterpillar gives advice in Alice in Wonderland (Arthur Rackham / Wikimedia)
The Frog Prince meets his princess in the famous fairy tale (Arthur Rackham / Wikimedia)
Snow White and her dwarves (Arthur Rackham / Wikimedia)
The three bears whom Goldilocks infamously meets (Arthur Rackham / Pixabay)
Alice with some friends in Alice in Wonderland (Arthur Rackham / Wikimedia)
A devious fairy in William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (Arthur Rackam / Pixabay)
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