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My Favorite Artists and Their Art: Arthur Rackham

  • Apr 9, 2011
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From my own perspective Arthur Rackham remains the greatest artist from The Golden Age of Illustration which lasted from the 1880s up until around WWII. Rackham first rose to prominence with his strangely compelling illustrated works that featured all of the various elements of the greatest myths, fables, and fairy tales. The artwork that he produced contained all of the whimsy, romance, adventure, and grotesquerie that was found in their accompanying narratives. Rackham's images became so ingrained in the minds of many children that his illustrations almost defined the essence of fantasy and legend for generations. Personally, I've always found his unique combination of innocent beauty with eeriness and often tragedy to be emotionally moving. I can't think of any other artist in the world of illustration who managed to so evocatively retell the stories of the past with such imagination and believability.
Soon she was lost to sight in the Danube.
For me, this remains one of the greatest illustrations of all time and Rackham's most gorgeous work. Everything about it, from the lines of the twisting dress as it's pulled into the violent waves and the expression on Undine's face, are just so beautifully tragic and haunting. Even the subtle traces of color combined with Rackham's typical use of earth and sepia tones works just so perfectly. I'd love to see a statue of this image done one day.
Rackham's work on Wagner's epic Der Ring des Nibelungen is perhaps the height of his abilities as a skillful artist and best displays the way that he could convey narrative and such strong emotion with his illustrations. His painting of Freyja is extraordinary and I love all the little mythological details that he placed into it, such as the cat and the apple tree.
The third time she wore the star-dress which sparkled with every step.
This particular painting is unique among Rackham's work because it doesn't feel like an illustration at all, but rather more like an Impressionist subject combined with a Pre-Raphaelite like style. The lighting, the subtlety of the colors, and the details here are just amazing.
At this the whole pack rose up into the air...
Along with his mythological works, Rackham's illustrations for classic Victorian literature is incredible. His work on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is remarkable in that he created images that have since become as iconic, and some would argue even more so, as those of the original illustrator John Tenniel. These illustrations are to me so indicative of Rackham's unique talent at bringing together childlike whimsy with darker themes.
It seemed as if a sudden swarm of winged creatures brushed past her.
A superb mythological illustration showing the unfortunate curiosity of Pandora as she opens the fabled box and lets loose all the evils of the world upon humankind.
Quite simply, this is the most iconic and classic image of the Norse thunder god ever... period! Powerful, evocative, and skillfully rendered as always.
The waiting maid sprang down and Maid Maleen followed.
The expressions here are so humanistic and full of longing and anticipation. Lovely.
I want to go to Valhalla too! Seriously though, this is a stunning illustration and is exactly how I picture valkyries.
Brünnhilde Kisses the Ring
I'm not sure if Rackham painted using models or not, but I find it interesting how different Brünnhilde looks in this painting as opposed the previous one since she has gone from a blonde Nordic-looking woman to a red haired Irish-looking woman. But no mind, I still find this painting equally beautiful.
Marjorie and Margaret
One of the most whimsical and charming illustrations Rackham ever produced. This one just exudes childlike wonder, innocence, and the warmth of friendship among the colorful flowers.
How Sir Launcelot fought with a fiendly dragon.
I have yet to see all of Rackham's illustrations for The Romance of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, but this one I've seen many times and it always makes me sad since Lancelot appears so cruel to the dragon, which is neither large nor imposing.
Titania lying asleep.
This painting, as I have probably remarked upon elsewhere, reminds me more of the enchanted slumber of Briar Rose in Sleeping Beauty, but regardless of its title or the origin of the work I love it.
When the storm threatened to burst on their heads.
I'm not sure what it is exactly that draws me to this illustration from Undine. I like the natural setting and the feeling of the warm wind blowing right before a Summer storm and the figure is quite nicely drawn, but it has an odd quality to it that I find very charming.
And now they never meet in grove or green, By fountain clear or spangled starlight sheen, But they do square.
Another Shakespeare-inspired image and one that I like very much. From the central figures of Oberon and Titania to the sense of the wind blowing through the field, Rackham has really captured the scene here and the idea of these two powerful Fairies.
The Magic Cup
Strangely compelling, both beautiful and eerie. I love the suggested texture of the girl's golden hair.
Without a doubt, one of my all-time favorite Shakespeare-inspired works of art. I love the use of the green and blue shades here and the image of the faeries and the unfortunate Bottom who's head is turned into that of a donkey.

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April 19, 2011
Fantastic list, Count. These are really extraordinary pieces.
April 22, 2011
Glad you enjoyed it.
April 12, 2011
One of my favorites too. Thanks for sharing!
April 12, 2011
April 09, 2011
I had never heard of Rackham until this list and I thank you incredibly for introducing me to such a talent. I thoroughly enjoyed clicking through to the topic so that I could truly appreciate his skill.
April 09, 2011
LOL! That's funny 'cause I think I've featured his art in all of my original art lists. If you like his stuff, you can get numerous books published by Dover which feature his artwork.
April 09, 2011
Either I owe you a bit of reading/commenting or I wasn't paying attention ;p I might have to look into those books, because his work is incredible.
April 09, 2011
The "Arthur Rackham Treasury" is a great place to start as is "Rackham's Illustrations for Wagner's 'Ring'". I've got quite a few books with his works and plan to collect more over time. There's something about that whole period of illustration that's just so enchanting and intriguing to me.
April 09, 2011
Well, you know how I love my Shakespeare and those illustrations captured A Midsummer's Night Dream so perfectly. I'd love to discover more of those drawings!
April 09, 2011
I know just the thing... A Midsummer Night's Dream. Great price too.
April 09, 2011
That's perfect! Thanks for the link, Sean!
April 12, 2011
Happy to spread the Rackham joy! : )
April 09, 2011
sweet list, Sean, I commented on several of them, just to be funny.
April 09, 2011
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